The images emerging out of India depicting mass funeral pyre sites, human corpses piled up outside crematoriums and bodies wrapped in bags scattered across city streets show that the heightened devastation COVID-19 has always threatened is now revealing itself.
The scope of the tragedy unfolding in the second most populous country on the planet is unprecedented in living memory.
A new record was reached on Saturday with over 400,000 new cases recorded, bringing the total number to over 19 million. And more than 3,500 people died over that same 24 hour period, which added to a death count that’s now risen to above 212,000.
But due to the infrastructure and the large rural population in the “devastatingly poor country”, the total number of infections and deaths is many times higher. And local doctors are warning that the second wave of the virus hitting India has not yet peaked, so the worst is still to come.
The subcontinent is not alone in the pandemic upsurge. COVID-19 cases are soaring in Brazil, as well as other South American countries.
Indeed, World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus outlined on the 26 April that “there were almost as many cases globally last week as in the first five months of the pandemic.”
But unlike the large numbers of coronavirus denialists that have surfaced within the nations of the Anglosphere, as well as in Europe, no similar movement is rising in countries of the Global South, as it seems COVID-19 conspiracy theories are the product of the privileged.
Masks are a trifle compared to death
As cases of the super virus started to grow globally in early 2020, so too did a vocal group of COVID conspiracists, who claimed the pandemic was a hoax constructed by increasingly authoritarian governments as a means of advancing greater control over their populations.
It’s easy to see how in countries of the Global North this position was tenable to a point. In developed nations, people infected with the virus were hospitalised, for the most part, so that meant out of the sight of the general populace.
In western nations where the sick were receiving adequate treatment, it was easy to posit that authorities were attributing more deaths to COVID-19 than were actually caused by it, as body bags containing the excess dead weren’t visibly strewn across the urban landscape.
Perhaps the most privileged aspect to the conspiracy stance was the issue with wearing masks. Those opposing it seemed to feel that all of their civil liberties had been curtailed at once as it was suggested they wear a piece of cloth across their mouths to prevent the spread of the disease.
In Australia, Pete Evans last year condemned campaigns that promoted the wearing masks as “fear-based programming”. But it’s highly unlikely the celebrity chef would be seen skipping through New Delhi hospital wards right now feeling assured his rights were somehow upheld without a mask.
In the region of Asia, masks have long been worn on a voluntary basis by a portion of the population, as a means of protecting themselves against the high levels of pollution prevalent in industrialising areas, as well as to protect against catching respiratory diseases.
Over there, masks aren’t associated with social control.
A tale of two pandemics
Arundhati Roy made clear in an article last week that the crisis in her country could have been averted if the Modi government had acted to prevent it.
“What we are witnessing is not criminal negligence, but an outright crime against humanity,” wrote the renowned political commentator.
While Mumbai journalist Rana Ayyub told Democracy Now that “the carnage is now unfolding in rural India”, where villages often don’t have electricity, let alone adequate medical care, and locals – including some doctors – remain unaware that it’s a new disease called COVID-19 killing those around them.
So, while it might have been conceivable for Australian pandemic conspiracists, such as the group United Collective, to claim that COVID was a lie in a country like ours where cases and fatalities were contained, it’s hard to see how they could justify that position in the face of India’s horror.
Citizens of the Anglosphere are right in being weary of what their governments tell them, especially after exposure to a long litany of lies in the form of the weapons of mass destruction pretext for the Iraqi War, as well as the revelations that were brought by Assange and Snowden.
However, the deaths sweeping poor nations of the Global South are very real. And to continue the “COVID is a hoax” rhetoric in the face of the grotesque misery these fellow human beings are suffering through is a most inhumane crime of the territorially prosperous.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.