India Faces Apocalypse, Covid Death Toll Reaches 18 Million

Society | April 29, 2021, Thursday // 16:07|  views

“It’s like we are in the middle of the apocalypse,” says 40-year-old Pia Desai, who lives in New Delhi, at the centre of the coronavirus crisis that has brought India’s healthcare system to its knees.

“Every family I know has been affected by Covid. It’s like a horror movie, everywhere you turn someone is asking for medicine, help with a hospital bed, food, plasma. It doesn’t matter who you are right now, you won’t get a hospital bed.”

Desai is in the 10th day of self-isolation with her family, after she and her husband tested positive for the virus. She cannot taste or smell, but counts herself as lucky. “I think I got a mild strain,” she says.

“My best friend’s mother-in-law was on a ventilator in a Delhi hospital, we ran around trying to get the right medication. The government says they’ve taken over distribution, but there’s absolutely none available,” says Desai, who runs a PR firm. “We searched on social media to find someone who had it in stock, but you could only find it on the black market and the prices were astronomical. You try to do what you can to help but it’s like a shot glass trying to bail out the Titanic.”

Her friend’s mother-in-law passed away on Wednesday morning. The family have been told the crematorium is full, with a backlog of two days. Desai is upset that she cannot be there for her best friend.

“I know so many people who are in hospital at the moment,” she says. It’s everywhere you look.”

The story of Desai and her friend is echoed by many who got in touch with the Guardian via a callout. India set a new record with 379,257 new Covid cases in the 24 hours to Thursday morning, according to the health ministry.

In Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, in the north of the country, 21-year-old Kinjal Pandey and her family have experienced the healthcare collapse first-hand. The whole family developed Covid symptoms and her father required oxygen but they couldn’t find any. They used connections – a friend of a friend who is a retired bureaucrat – to obtain some, but Pandey says she is painfully aware that most are not as fortunate.

“I don’t understand how other people are getting through,” says Pandey, who works in finance. “Lots of people are relying on Twitter and Instagram stories [to source oxygen] but a lot of those leads go back to the black market. Lots of people are struggling with the economic side of Covid, so don’t even realise they’re not well. Their biggest problem is not having food, so it doesn’t matter if you have a fever.”

According to health experts, the official number of coronavirus cases in India is likely to be a vast underestimate, in part due to low testing. This is a problem Pandey has seen in Uttar Pradesh.

When she and her family developed symptoms about 10 days ago, she called 15 local hospitals and testing centres but none would allow them to drive to get tested, or collect samples from their house. When they did get tests, the results were all negative, despite them all having symptoms fitting coronavirus and her father’s oxygen levels dropping to 83.

According to Pandey, close family friends of theirs were tested at the same lab and also got negative results. Now, she says, two members of that family are on oxygen. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers are a tenth of what they are. Everyone is infected, everyone is sick.”

In other regions of India, many are anxiously watching the spread of the virus.

“Not everywhere in India is as badly affected as Delhi, but it’s getting there,” says Alan D’Mello, a hotelier and chef who lives in Mumbai. “All possible beds are fully occupied, and no matter how much money you have, there are no beds available as we speak. The allocation of beds is not systematic, because the system has broken down. Many colleagues and [people in my] larger network are now battling for their lives.”

D’Mello and his wife are both immunocompromised. D’Mello has asthma and had pneumonia twice, along with bronchitis. In their apartment block, two families have the virus, and the couple hope it doesn’t reach them. “It is a guarantee it’ll get worse in a few places,” D’Mello says.

Around them, restaurants and offices are closed, public gatherings are banned, but social distancing isn’t always followed. “It’s alarming that people will crowd around,” he says. “Even three people next to us is dangerous.”

The situation in India is reaching families and diasporas across the world. In West Yorkshire, 17-year-old A-level student Sunaina Mathapati said she feels “helpless”. Her aunt is in intensive care in Karnataka with coronavirus.

“All my extended family is India. All my relatives, everyone. A few family members have got Covid, and my aunt had to wait a few hours before she could get a hospital bed, but others are waiting days, or dying in their cars,” she says. “I worry about my grandparents constantly. It’s a very frightening situation to be in. I’m very upset.”

Mathapati is speaking to her relatives every day, and the family keep local Indian news channels on for constant updates.

“There are people dying on the pavements outside hospitals,” she says. “You hear about it in the news, but when you have family there it’s surreal how real everything is. It’s dystopian, almost.”



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Tags: India, COVID-19, apocalypse


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