Edwin reports from Tamil Nadu:
We will probably have another super spreader event on 2 May 2021 when the election results are announced.
The Chief Minister has asked that oxygen produced in the state should not be given to other states. In the midst of it all, a polluting copper smelter industrial unit that was shutdown (sterlite) after 13 peaceful protesters were killed in cold blood by the police, was given permission by the supreme court to restart to ‘produce oxygen’.
Migrant labourers who were trickling back have fled, not wanting to be stranded like last time when trains were cancelled and they had to walk and hitch rides back home thousands of kilometres away. They are sleeping outside the railway station so that they do not miss the trains (even when they have reserved tickets). Others (mainly brick kiln workers) are within the units, blissfully unaware of the unfolding situation, but kept in almost slave-like conditions.
The Government of India has permitted manufacturers to price the vaccine according to the market demand. So the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine now costs Rs 150 (NZ$2.82) for the federal government, Rs 400 (NZ$7.52) for state governments and Rs 600 (NZ$11.27) for private hospitals.
The same vaccine is exported to the EU at NZ$3 – $5, about NZ$4 per dose to the UK and NZ$6 to the USA. Bangladesh, too, is procuring the vaccine for NZ$6 with the final cost amounting to $5. This is despite the fact that the CEO Poonawalla had said that his company was making a profit even at a price of Rs 150 (NZ$2.82) per dose. The Indian vaccine is priced double that at Rs 1200 (NZ$22.60).
There are reports that the prices may be rolled back a bit after the backlash but nothing as of now. The federal government has washed its hands off the matter and asked the states to import vaccines directly. Several citizens groups are crowdfunding state governments that have promised free vaccines.
The federal government has said in the Supreme Court that there is no shortage of oxygen, and true to form the case has been adjourned for a week when people are dying by the hour. Other states have made reporting of the pandemic an offence under the prevention of terrorism act, and the government has forced twitter to block factual reporting saying that it’ll create panic (but has not disputed the facts).
Like the rest of the country, there is vaccine shortage even for the over 45s, but the federal government has announced that people over 18 are eligible from 1 May 2021.
Situation in Chennai
The situation in Chennai is par for the course, with makeshift hospitals being initiated to tide over the crisis – and Tamil Nadu is one of the better administered states in the country! Even so, there has been night curfew and more restrictions are stealthily being put in place virtually every day. Some livelihoods have been irrevocably vanished, and even people in the resettlement areas in Chennai – the state capital – face a bleak future within days of the restrictions coming into effect. Islamophobia is rearing its head, and the electioneering has made it worse. Attacks against Christians, unthinkable even a few years ago, happen even in Madras.
There is a general fatigue and numbness. Relief has dried up. Those who supported relief last year say their coffers are empty. We are trying to get the elected representatives in local government to collectively demand proper relief. Citizens are running the food preparation and delivery for those in quarantine, with the government washing its hands off.
Thankfully, most of us at Human Rights Foundation are fine. Some of our families have been affected too, and we are trying to cope with caregiving functions in addition to work from home disruptions. Most of our programmes continue online, and through our helplines. We will be back in the field in collaboration with the people’s health movement in a couple of days. The communities we work with are traditionally underserved.
April 27, 2021