Ananya Tina Banerjee is an assistant professor at McGill University. Amanpreet Brar is a general surgery resident physician at the University of Toronto. Veena Sriram is an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. Madhukar Pai is a professor at McGill University.
As South Asians of Indian descent living in Canada, we are watching in despair as our second home gasps for air. India is sinking under a devastating second wave of COVID-19, driven by new variants and a weak public-health response from the government. The country is in need of urgent international aid, and we await Canada’s response.
The situation in India is more dire than anything the world has witnessed so far in this pandemic. The second wave, likely driven by the B.1.1.7 and B.1.617 variants, has become a “mountain” with an unbelievably explosive, exponential increase in cases. There were approximately 352,991 new cases and 2,812 deaths on April 25 alone, figures that are probably gross underestimates.
The health system in many areas, including Delhi, has collapsed completely. Ambulances rush from one hospital to another trying to find empty beds, while patients line up outside of medical facilities begging to be let in to prevent their deaths. Hospitals are short of oxygen, ventilators and beds. Crematoriums in many parts of the country are working around the clock.
The emotional toll has been overwhelming for us as our loved ones back home face life-and-death situations and request help on social media. Millions are seeking oxygen cylinders, oximeters and ICU beds. In all likelihood, the country has not yet reached the peak. It has so far administered more than 127 million first doses of vaccine in what is the world’s largest inoculation drive, but that is only 10 per cent of the population.
Canada and India have strong strategic and economic ties. Canada has a large Indian population, with more than one million people of Indian descent. The situation in India is affecting Canada in myriad ways. Federal authorities have announced a pause in flights from India and Pakistan. Exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India have been paused temporarily, likely adding to vaccination delays for Canadians and other regions, such as Africa, that are part of the COVAX initiative.
Many South Asians live in some of the hardest-hit regions in Canada, such as Brampton, Ont., Montreal’s Park Extension neighbourhood and Surrey, B.C. People in these regions are in a third wave themselves, and many face the wrath of systemic racism and income-based inequities in the form of precarious work and a lack of paid sick days. Now some residents bear the added stress of sending money to their families back home for COVID-19-related medical expenses.
South Asians in Canada are also bracing for a surge in racist encounters after the cover of Le Journal de Montréal showed Prime Minister Trudeau in Indian attire with the headline “The Indian Variant Has Arrived.” This can lead to false ideas about the variant that may exacerbate discrimination against South Asians.
We are asking Canadians to be allies with South Asian communities as we battle two pandemic waves simultaneously. Ensure you are open to listening, supportive and understand that not everyone processes tragedy similarly. Recognize that your family, friends or colleagues from countries facing major COVID-19 emergencies are struggling and that they need your compassion.
India desperately needs help from Canada, and right now that includes medical supplies, especially oxygen and ventilators. Though the Canadian government has announced it stands ready to assist India, it is unclear when it will send the promised PPE, ventilators and other equipment. India also needs COVID-19 vaccines, as the population is enormous and domestic manufacturing alone is unlikely to be sufficient. While Canada does not produce vaccines, it can support temporary waivers of intellectual property rights to allow other countries to make their own.
Canadians need to pay close attention to struggles in other parts of the world. COVID-19 variants of concern have emerged mostly in countries that have experienced uncontrolled outbreaks, including Brazil, South Africa, Britain and now India. This should tell us that we cannot end the pandemic by vaccinating only our country. The only way to end the pandemic is to end it everywhere, and global hot spots such as India will be key.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.