India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said he feels the pain of all Indians battling the pandemic, in a televised address Friday following weeks of largely avoiding public comment on his country’s devastating coronavirus wave.
The Hindu nationalist leader’s government has been stung by criticism of its handling of the virus, with his address coming as the country of 1.3 billion reported 4,000 deaths for a third straight day and 343,144 new infections.
Many Indians have taken to social media to accuse Modi’s populist right-wing administration of abandoning them as desperate families scramble to find hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and anti-viral medicines.
Opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said the Prime Minister had gone “missing” like the oxygen and hospital beds.
But Modi said Friday that his government was working on a “war-footing” against Covid-19.
“Because of this coronavirus, we have lost people close to us. The pain that our citizens have suffered in recent days, I am feeling it just as much,” he said.
“Whatever obstacles are there we are trying to remove.”
Modi said even the military was working against what he called “an invisible enemy that is always changing shape.”
“India is not going to lose hope. We will fight and win against this virus.”
His comments came as the virus eases in major cities like New Delhi and Mumbai, but India’s rural hinterland, home to two-thirds of the population, is now bearing the brunt.
The northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to more than 240 million people, has been particularly badly hit.
Residents say deaths are being under-reported and with crematoriums overwhelmed, some bodies have been thrown into rivers, forcing the government on Friday to order police patrols on the Ganges and elsewhere to stop people dumping the dead.
“Corona infection is spreading fast in our villages too,” Modi added, saying his government was “trying everything possible” to stop it.
The government is counting on a vast vaccination drive, but has fallen behind in its goal of giving jabs to 300 million people by the end of July.
India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, has fully vaccinated just over 38.2 million people, amid jab shortages and glitches in the online registration system.