The Western media’s anti-India bias that borders on racism and its brazenly hostile agenda against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government he heads is well-known. The relentless targeted attacks on India and its government by way of perverse reportage on the COVID-19 pandemic reflect this bias and agenda.
This was most evident during the second wave when ‘news stories’ in the Western media became a grotesque caricature of human tragedy as the pandemic which originated in China savaged India. It was a nonstop morbid display of callous insensitivity, including towards Hindu funeral rites.
By now there is a certain familiarity to this racially repugnant coverage of, and commentary on, India by the Western media. Bloomberg’s recent screed (“How Errors, Inaction Sent a Deadly Covid Variant Around The World”) which blames India for the devastation wrought by the Delta variant globally, validates how the Western media is increasingly perceived in India.
The sum total of the fact-redundant article, duly embellished with mendacious allegations and malicious opinion, is that India not only incubated the Delta variant but also exported it to unsuspecting countries, including China, causing loss of lives and crippling economies. This would have been laughable had there been no sinister purpose behind Bloomberg’s appalling attempt to tar and feather India.
With the Omicron variant on the rampage and the US witnessing an all-time global record number of COVID-19 cases while Europe struggles to cope with a massive surge of the mutated virus, the Western media should have been focusing its attention on how the pandemic is playing out in the West. Instead, Bloomberg has chosen to focus attention on India’s second wave of early 2021, and, in an inquisitorial manner, accused the government of not preventing the spread of the Delta variant beyond Indian shores.
The timing is not coincidental: it’s timed to smear India and distract attention from the West’s woes. It is a dog whistle for others in the Western media to respond in a Pavlovian manner.
Worse, Bloomberg’s abhorrent attempt to pin the origin of the Delta variant on India harks back to the racist description of the mutant as the ‘Indian variant’, a term which was discarded, even if reluctantly, after WHO castigated such labelling.
Bloomberg is either blissfully ignorant or wilfully deviant. Just because a mutated variant of a virulent virus is identified in a country does not necessarily make that country the originating point of the mutant. Before the Delta variant was identified, it was clubbed with the ‘double mutant’ variant found in Britain – or, as a scientist says, the variant identified in India is a progeny of what was then called the ‘UK variant’. The Omicron variant was identified in Botswana, but just for that reason that country cannot be labelled as the Petri dish in which the latest mutant of the virus took form and shape.
It is common knowledge, clearly alien to Bloomberg, that viruses mutate constantly; that mutations happen across geographies; that a mutant virus, identified in a particular country, spreads through countries and populations despite best efforts to contain it. That’s how pandemics happen.
It is absurd to assert, as Bloomberg does, that the Delta variant identified in India could have been detected earlier, contained and prevented from spreading around the world. That is not how viruses work.
Was the Government of India slow to report and respond, as alleged by Bloomberg, to the Delta variant detected in October 2020? Did the Government of India hide information, as accused by Bloomberg, about the detection and epidemiological impact of the mutant virus? Both these questions are easily answered as the relevant facts, unknown to Bloomberg, have been in the public domain for long.
The rising trend of COVID-19 cases in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra in early February 2021 prompted the Government of India to immediately deploy multiple Central teams of experts to propose ways and means of containing the spread of infection. Based on their recommendations, samples from Mumbai and Nagpur were sent for Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) at National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in the second week of February.
These samples were sequenced and the results presented before the Scientific Advisory Group (SAG) of Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) on March 10, 2021. The results showed the presence of previously uncatalogued ‘E 484 Q’ and ‘L 452 R’, two key mutations seen in the receptor-binding domain of the virus, in 15 to 20 per cent of samples. The SAG came to the conclusion that such mutations could confer immune escape and increase the infectivity of the virus. This was conveyed to the government.
The INSACOG labs regularly submit bioinformatics data to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID). The first sequences of ‘B.1.617’ (Delta variant) was submitted to GISAID on February 23, 2021 and ‘B.1.617.1’ (Delta+ variant) on March 3, 2021 for review by international scientists and epidemiologists. The results, showing the presence of the double mutant in samples that had been genome sequenced, were also shared with Maharashtra on March 12, 2021.
Subsequently, based on the recommendations of SAG, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued a statement to the media on March 24, 2021, providing details of the genome sequencing by INSACOG and the mutation that was detected. This mutation was designated as ‘B.1.617’ and a ‘Variant of Interest’ by WHO on April 4, 2021.
Yet Bloomberg maliciously and malevolently alleges that the Government of India was slow and ineffective; that genome sequencing was delayed; that scientists were ignored; and, that India allowed the Delta variant to spread. Bloomberg has not allowed facts to stand in the way of its agenda-driven smear campaign disguised as ‘journalism’.
So, India took between February and March 2021 to figure out the mutation that had begun to spread in the country and share the data with international scientists. How long did it take countries to report other variants and share relevant associated data? As WION has pointed out, the Alpha variant emerged in September 2020; it was reported in December. The Beta variant emerged in May 2020; it was reported in December. The Gamma variant emerged in Brazil in November 2020; it was reported by Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases in January 2021.
But Bloomberg stunningly says, “The actions India did — and did not take — as delta emerged, ultimately saddled its people and the world with a ruthlessly virulent incarnation of the coronavirus… Delta upended even the most successful pandemic strategies, snaking into countries like Australia and China with stringent ‘Covid Zero’ curbs in place and effectively closed borders.”
If there’s something to be gleaned from Bloomberg’s screed, it is that the COVID-19 virus’s country of origin is free of all blemish.
Meanwhile, India with its billion-plus population is pushing ahead with the world’s biggest vaccination programme. Till December 30, 2021, India’s COVID-19 vaccination coverage had exceeded 144.54 crore doses. From January 2022, the 15-18 age group will receive vaccine doses, along with frontline workers and 60+ who will get a ‘preventive’ third dose.
Bloomberg should try and compare these numbers with those in the West and figure out why are Delta and Omicron variants wreaking havoc over there.
Kanchan Gupta is Senior Advisor in the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.