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Indians in despair as hospitals are forced to turn Covid patients away

28 April 2021


The relatives of Covid-19 patients being treated at home queue for medicine at a government hospital in Kolkata, India, on Tuesday

The relatives of Covid-19 patients being treated at home queue for medicine at a government hospital in Kolkata, India, on Tuesday

FEAR is overtaking courage among the people of India as a devastating outbreak of Covid-19 has overwhelmed hospitals and crematoria and led to widespread shortages of oxygen and medicines, the Christian charity Tearfund reports.

Its country director for India, Prince David, said on Tuesday that he was fearful of picking up the phone this week because each time he had done so he had learned that another friend had died. “People are in despair. It is tough. Even people who have been very courageous in other situations are saying: ‘I am scared this time, and I don’t know what’s happening around me.’

“My friend told me earlier this week that the hospital his wife works in only had sufficient oxygen to last the next six hours. Hospitals were running out of oxygen across the country.”

The number of coronavirus cases and deaths in India has rocketed in the past few weeks, fuelled by a new variant of the virus (News, 23 April). The country has so far confirmed more than 17.6 million infections and 197,000 deaths, but the true figure is likely to be much higher. In Delhi, which has a population of around 20 million, hospitals are having to turn people away.

Medical supplies, including ventilators and oxygen, were being shipped in from the UK this week. The Archbishop of Canterbury said on Tuesday that he was deeply concerned for the people of India. He wrote on Twitter: “Let us pray for all those suffering, those worried about loved ones and those who are on the frontlines providing care, leadership and support.

“May God be with the scared, the sick and the dying, and may the global community come together at this time of need to protect every precious life.”

Mr David said that Tearfund and its partners had been providing food, water, and counselling for migrant workers left destitute by the economic fallout of the lockdown; but that this work was being delayed as infection rates drove people to desperation. 

“My concern is that our plans to hand over to communities the management of their own sustainable development will be delayed,” he said. “The progress they have made to increase their resilience since the first lockdown is being frustrated by the second wave. Farmers who grow and sell produce in the market are telling us that they are not earning enough because there are few buyers. The cash economy has been massively affected, and it’s not going to recover in the short term.”

Despite the crisis, there was hope in aspiration, he said. “After major disasters, we have seen communities build their resilience, go back to life, and continue from there. It is going to take time. It takes a lot of effort. It takes a lot of investment. Once the cases of coronavirus go down, people will spring back. They are going to go back to work. They are going to restart their businesses. Right now, it’s a very difficult phase.”

The charity has also launched an appeal for vaccine equality.

On Wednesday, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) announced that it was extending its coronavirus appeal to include India. The appeal, which was launched in July 2020, already includes hard-hit countries such as Yemen, Syria, and South Sudan.

As a result, the DEC will start directing urgent life-saving assistance to the country’s health services, including PPE, disinfection kits, ventilators, and other medical supplies, as well as funding preventative measures such as hygiene stations. www.dec.org.uk

Read more on the story from Paul Vallely

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