Over the past few weeks, India has recorded the world’s highest numbers of daily COVID-19 cases and deaths. After a surge of cases last fall, India’s caseload had been steadily declining for nearly six months. Two domestic drug companies began producing vaccines last year, even exporting doses to Africa. But since the beginning of March, the country experienced a devastating outbreak. The number of reported infections soared from about 12,200 on March 1 to more than 386,000 on May 11, and the number of reported deaths rose from 91 on March 1 to almost 3,900 on May 11. At the same time, the number of vaccine doses administered per day has been declining since March. Why is India having so much trouble with COVID-19?

According to Omair Ahmad, an Indian journalist and contributing editor with The Signal, the disaster in India is the direct result of government failures. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have consistently ignored the advice of scientists. Ahmad reports that the government has failed to engage in contact tracing or tracking new virus variants. It didn’t order enough vaccines or treatment equipment such as ventilators. Instead, as Ahmad sees it, the Hindu nationalist government blamed Muslims for spreading the virus last year, and Modi has been noticeably absent from public view since the country’s caseload skyrocketed.

Michael Bluhm: Why is India experiencing such a terrible number of coronavirus infections and deaths?

Omair Ahmad: There are two parts to this answer. One is the science. The virus circulated long enough in the Indian population that we had a series of mutations. That means it spreads easier, and it’s spreading to a wider class of people. In the initial spread, we didn’t have so many younger people falling ill. Added to that, there’s also the U.K. variant, which came into Punjab and other parts of India.

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