International medical journal The Lancet on Saturday published an article targeting Prime Minister Modi over the Coronavirus crisis in India. In strong words, it placed the entire burden for the crisis at the feet of the Prime Minister while giving every other political party a free pass.
The wording makes it evident that the medical journal is using its clout to wage political battles against politicians they personally disagree with. It is not the first time they have done such a thing. Following the abrogation of Article 370, The Lancet had issued a strong condemnation of the Indian Government.
The article itself is riddled with a series of inaccuracies in terms of data that can be interpreted by laymen as well. The article says, “India must reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission as much as possible while the vaccine is rolled out. As cases continue to mount, the government must publish accurate data in a timely manner, and forthrightly explain to the public what is happening and what is needed to bend the epidemic curve, including the possibility of a new federal lockdown.”
The Lancet argues for a national lockdown, ignoring the fact that the vast majority of India is already under partial or full lockdown. The effectivity of lockdown to curb the spread of the virus is debatable as well. Delhi, which imposed a lockdown on the 19th of April, had a test positivity rate of 31.1% on the 1st of May. Since then, the test positivity rate has come down to 23.34% on Saturday, that is, 20 days after the imposition of lockdown.
Even experts are not sure whether the reduction in the test positivity can be attributed to the lockdown.
“The reducing positivity rate is a signal that Delhi has reached the peak of infections. Now, whether the current reduction is because of the lockdown, we cannot know for sure. This could be the natural progression of the disease; any infection can spread only to a certain extent before coming down. Lockdown, if properly implemented, prevent interfamily transmissions giving hospitals a breather – allowing them to arrange beds, oxygen, medicines etc,” Dr Jacob John, former head of the department of virology at the Christian Medical College-Vellore, was quoted by the Hindustan Times as saying.
The problems with the ‘million death by August’ projections
There are fundamental issues with the sources cited by The Lancet in the article as well. It says at one point, “The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that India will see a staggering 1 million deaths from COVID-19 by Aug 1.”
There are multiple things that are wrong with the IHME projections. For instance, according to the projections, 195,135 people had already succumbed to Covid-19 in India by the 1st of September 2020. At that point of time, the reported deaths were just over 66 thousand.
As of today, its projected death tally stands at 734,238 individuals. Officially, the figure is at 242,362. That is over 3 times the reported Covid-19 deaths. By August, the IHME does not project 1 million death toll for India. The projected figure is 1.6 million at its worst and 1.3 million at best with current estimate being 1.46 million deaths.
That The Lancet chose to omit 300,000 deaths to 600,000 deaths from its article shows that not even they believe the vast exaggerations of the IHME. There is no valid justification for such a number either given the manner in which they have projected such figures. The IHME projected over 1000 Covid-19 deaths regularly in November 2020 when cases were definitively on the downturn.
The political bias of its sources
The Lancet for its article has used other dubious sources as well. One is an article penned by journalist Anoo Bhuyan. The bias of the author becomes evident in the article when she only mentions political rallies carried out by the Prime Minister but does not mention others by name.
Coincidentally, the politically biased article by Anoo Bhuyan too was published in The Lancet. Even so, it has to be conceded that the article by Bhuyan does not explicitly blame the Prime Minister or the Central Government for the crisis as the report notes that other political parties organised massive rallies as well.
The report by Bhuyan notes, “In early 2021, an opinion that India had overcome the pandemic and acquired herd immunity gained ground among policy makers, sections of the media, and the public, said Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India. “Even sections of the scientific community propagated this view”, he added. The belief that there would be no second wave, says Reddy, was also spurred on by the desire to reopen society and revive economic growth.”
Therefore, it is indeed dubious that The Lancet used that report as a source as well to conclude in the end that “If that outcome were to happen, Modi’s Government would be responsible for presiding over a self-inflicted national catastrophe. India squandered its early successes in controlling COVID-19.”
Bloomberg’s biased coverage
Other sources include an article by Bloomberg that criticised India’s vaccine strategy. The Bloomberg article says, “Starting May 1, everyone over 18 is eligible for a vaccine while state governments and private hospitals can purchase doses directly from manufacturers for people from 18 to 45 years — triggering a desperate free-for-all rush to secure shots from an already strapped market.”
It is a remarkable case of “Heads, I win. Tails, you lose” situation. Numerous figures in the media and experts had suggested that vaccines be opened up for the 18-45 age category. When the government decided to open it up, the media is now accusing the government of “triggering a desperate free-for-all rush”. It’s a case of “Damned If I do. damned if I don’t” situation.
The article states further, “Health experts and officials in opposition-controlled states say the plan passes the buck to regional governments rather than addressing the pandemic directly.” The same states were arguing for more autonomy for states and now they are blaming the government for it. And it is bizarre that international media is taking the claims of opposition parties, with their own agenda, at face value without the slightest bit of skepticism.
The Bloomberg article mentions the Kumbh Mela but gives mass gatherings related to the farmer protests a free pass. It is not surprising given that international media was aggressively campaigning for the farmer protests that have continued since last year. These are just few of the many instances of bias in the article.
It is also to be mentioned that Bloomberg is the political propaganda initiative. Michael Bloomberg, the owner, was a presidential candidate from the Democrat Party in the US Elections 2020. We know for a fact that ownership affects their coverage as Bloomberg had announced that it will not Mike Bloomberg or his rivals during the Democrat primaries.
Motivated by petty politics, not medical expertise
One Al Jazeera report cited as a source claims that the Uttar Pradesh Government threatened hospitals flagging oxygen shortage. The report itself had cited “Indian media”. That did not happen. The UP Government had promised to crack down on rumours that could jeopardise the battle against Covid and waste resources in the process that could have been allocated elsewhere. It also promised a crack down on black marketing.
The Lancet also used a report by NYT to claim “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Government has seemed more intent on removing criticism on Twitter than trying to control the pandemic.” This is again motivated propaganda. The Government had asked for tweets to be removed that peddled hoaxes denying the existence of the Coronavirus and shared photographs of burning funeral pyres unrelated to the current crisis.
Thus, it is clear that the indictment of the Modi Government by The Lancet is motivated by petty politics and not medical expertise. The journal also demonstrates a spectacular lack of understanding of the political system in India. India has a federal structure and major powers are in the control of states, including healthcare and law and order. To absolve the states entirely of any blame reeks of political motivations on the part of The Lancet, which is already established by their opposition towards the abrogation of Article 370.
Furthermore, the British medical journal is pitching for a federal lockdown despite the fact that numerous states have imposed total lockdown or partial so that the blame for the economic devastation that inevitably follows the lockdown falls on the central government so that their friends in the media can target the government over the same again.