UP Likely to Be Worst Hit State by End-April but Ministers in Denial About Oxygen Shortage

UP's medical education minister Suresh Khanna has claimed that there were no deaths due to oxygen shortage.

Lucknow: With the NITI Aayog predicting 120,000 new cases of COVID-19 in Uttar Pradesh by the end of April, questions are being raised about the approach and attitude of the state government in dealing with the impending disaster.

According to a presentation by the Aayog’s Vinod K. Paul to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as reported by the Economic Times, Uttar Pradesh is projected to become the state worst hit by COVID-19 by the end of April. Paul’s projections indicste Uttar Pradesh could report a little under 1.2 lakh new cases on April 30, followed by Maharashtra (99,665), Delhi (67,134) and Chhattisgarh (61,474).Uttar Pradesh has thus far reported 1.01 million COVID-19 cases. A little over a quarter of them are currently active, 10,000 have died and the rest have recovered – suggesting a naïve recovery rate of 91%.

Like elsewhere in the country, the acute shortage of oxygen has been taking the lives of many in UP’s major cities, including the capital Lucknow. Here, unprecedented sights of mass cremations of dead bodies speak volumes about the scary ground reality, to which the government has chosen to turn a blind eye.

This week, however, Uttar Pradesh’s medical education minister Suresh Khanna insisted there has been no death due to oxygen shortage, the Navbharat Times reported.

Khanna told reporters that there is no oxygen shortage in the state, adding that nobody had died in Lucknow due to lack of oxygen.

Local media reports disputed this account, saying that for the past several days, many cities, including Lucknow, were facing a shortage of oxygen. Patients have been evicted from the hospital and notices were put up in several hospitals in Lucknow, Kanpur, Agra and Sultanpur about a shortage of oxygen, reports said.

Khanna seems to have gone into the same denial mode as chief minister Yogi Adityanath had done during his first year in office in 2017, when dozens of children gasped to death in the absence of oxygen at the BRD Medical College in the latter’s hometown Gorakhpur.

Not only did Yogi flatly refuse to accept oxygen shortage as the cause of the deaths of 67 children, but he went to the extent of ordering stern punitive action against all and sundry who dared to blame the deaths on this critical failure. One of the attending medical personnel, Dr Kafeel Khan, who went out of his way to procure oxygen cylinders from private sources, was taken to task and even sent to jail. Though he was exonerated later, he continues to be harassed by the state government.

Meanwhile, the ruling BJP’s faith in religion and prayer as an antidote to the dangers of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has done little to reassure the public that the administration is serious about tackling the pandemic.

Also Read: UP’s COVID-19 Victims Have Been Left to Fend for Themselves

Several BJP leaders have come under criticism for giving unsound advice to battle COVID-19. Recently, Uttarakhand chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat was criticised for justifying his government’s decision to hold the Kumbh Mela even as COVID-19 cases began to spiral out of control.

In response, he said, “Most importantly, Kumbh is at the bank of the River Ganga. Maa Ganga’s blessings are there in the flow. So, there should be no corona.”

Note: In the initial version of this story, claims made by two newspapers –  Prabhat Khabar and National Herald – of defence minister Rajnath Singh and other speakers at an event in Lucknow saying the Ramcharitmanas would help combat COVID-19 were erroneously reproduced in our correspondent’s report and in our headline without independent confirmation by The Wire. The story was unpublished shortly after publication since the necessary due diligence on it was not done. A subsequent review by our editorial desk of what appears to be a recording of the entire event does not show the minister making the remarks attributed to him and we have thus removed those references. We apologise to Rajnath Singh and our readers for this lapse.