India is currently experiencing the world's worst COVID-19 surge, breaking global records daily. Dr. Abraar Karan, an internal medicine physician at Brighan and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, spoke to Boston Public Radio on Wednesday about why the country is facing its worst surge and what that means for the rest of the world.
"If you look back to January and February, everyone was trying to come up with an explanation as to how India had done so well — how, in such a densely populated country, such control had been achieved," Karan said. "But then we've seen that change very quickly, with exponential spread now setting world records every day for the number of cases."
There are many possible reasons why the surge is happening now, according to Karan. But he said much of the blame so far has landed on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been pulling back on restricitions.
"It's really alarming and disappointing," Karan said. "Prime Minister Modi has been focused on his reelection campaign. He's allowed people to not wear masks during rallies, allowed large political rallies to continue, and now we're even seeing potential censorship around social media posts that are critical to the government."
On Sunday, the White House said that it will provide India with raw materials for vaccine production, along with rapid coronavirus test kits, personal protective equipment and other resources. Members of Congress have called on the administration to do more, including waiving vaccine patents.
"But you won't be able to vaccinate your way out of a surge like this, a surge of epidemic proportions," Karan warned. "Really, now, what you're focused on is like what we had done back in the spring here in Boston: flattening the curve, making sure the healthcare system doesn't collapse and making sure that patients are treated."
The current crisis in India shows how rolling back restrictions among a susceptible population will make the virus start to spread again, according to Karan.
"The pandemic has shown us how globally interconnected we all are," he said. "What happens in other countries affects us. The idea that what's happening in other countries doesn't matter — well, COVID should really squash that in our minds, because it matters very much."