The crisis in India forced the west to respond. But without an ambitious global plan, other nations may suffer similar fates
As the number of Covid-19 cases rose dramatically in Europe and the US during the early part of last year, something strange seemed to be happening in the global south. South Africa’s entire death toll was less than 100 at the same time that Britain was losing more than 1,000 lives a day. India’s death rate during this period was so low that it was termed a “mystery”. More confident conclusions were drawn about Africa’s fate; some thought it had been spared the worst of Covid-19 because it took decisive action early on in the pandemic, while others said the continent had been saved by its warm climate, its low elderly population and its “good community health systems”. There was even brief excitement about the curative potential of homegrown sweet wormwood, a plant that the president of Madagascar claimed was a treatment for Covid-19.
Most of this reasoning was speculative. But by the late summer of 2020, two clear trends were emerging. While parts of western Europe were enduring a devastating first wave of Covid-19 cases, Africa and south Asia were experiencing a slow-moving, sometimes stalling rate of infection and a comparatively low death toll. Those trends are now being reversed.
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