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India: Overflowing With Bodies

SALIHA REHANAZ | NEWS



With shortages of oxygen, medical supplies, hospital beds, cremation supplies, and vaccines, an abundance of hope may be the only thing that helps India cope with the second wave of the new COVID-19 variant.


As more than a year passes since the first death was reported in China due to the novel coronavirus, the world still grapples with heart-breaking devastation over the loss of loved ones because of this pandemic. For many individuals, the pandemic has allowed opportunities to launch small online businesses, become TikTok influencers, or even master the art of making banana bread or Dalgona coffee. But for others, and right now, especially for India, the largest necessity appears to be a gasp of air.


In countries like Australia, strict travel restriction measurements have enabled the condition to be contained with the number of cases reported decreasing every day. However, a devastating second wave of the virus has left India helpless.


As the numbers of cases rise in India, the biggest issue arises due to the lack of space in intensive care units in hospitals and widespread shortage of oxygen and medicines. With no places available in local clinics and hospitals, patients are travelling miles to find a bed or lying on the ground outside hospitals, in the hopes that someone inside either recovers or dies, so the bed can then be occupied by them.


As I write this, there are currently over 300,000 daily officially reported COVID-19 cases in India, and it is anticipated that this number will continue to increase over the next two to three weeks. Pictures on social media and news articles capture the horrific situation in India, as hospitals turn away patients due to the lack of medical oxygen available.


International help has been arriving to India over the last week as Britain sent over 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators. France sent eight large oxygen-generating plants, and Ireland, Germany and Australia, have also dispatched oxygen concentrators and ventilators. US President Joe Biden has also reaffirmed the nation’s commitment to help India, as he is expecting to send over vaccines to India, however President Biden’s senior officials have warned that the US is still at the “front-end” of the crisis themselves. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also said it is working to deliver 4,000 oxygen concentrators to India.


The Chief Minister of Delhi, India’s capital, Arvind Kejriwal has warned citizens of the contagious nature of the virus and hopes to convert a large public area in the capital into a critical care hospital. There have also been reports of overcrowding in front of hospitals as patients and loved ones wait for a hospital bed to become available. This poses another risk as family members that may not have had the condition before, soon end up becoming affected as they wait, contributing to the large number of daily cases.


Even though family members are seeing the consequences of the virus first-hand, they have been refusing to leave the side of their loved ones who have been affected. As people become more frustrated with the lack of medical resources, cases have been reported of assault and brawls taking place in hospitals against staff.


In a hospital in the southeast of Delhi, the relatives of a recently deceased COVID-19 patient assaulted staff with knives, causing injury to one person. After the incident and many others, Delhi High Court has advised local authorities to provide security to hospitals.


The surge of cases has resulted from the new B.1.617 variant of the COVID-19 virus, and it has also spread to other nations, including neighbouring Bangladesh, which has a population of over 164 million.


India also faces another issue as vaccination supplies are running incredibly low in the country which houses over 1.4 billion people.


Besides the devastating images of people hopelessly waiting outside of hospitals, pictures of mass cremation grounds have sparked grief and memories of New York last year, when death numbers were beyond control.


While hospitals have no place for living people, the country’s crematoriums are also running out of places. Additionally, with a significant portion of people living in poverty, many family members cannot afford the cremation or burial costs. With no place for dead bodies to be cremated or buried, as many as 100 bodies have washed up on the banks of the river in Buxar, on the border between Bihar and Uttar Pradesh states.


It appears that with no other option, family members dispose of the bodies of their loved ones into the holy Ganges River, which is personified as a goddess in Hinduism. This is not the first-time bodies have floated up in rivers in India during a pandemic. During the 1918 outbreak of the Spanish Flu, the Ganges River had overflowed with dead bodies, as supplies of firewood to cremate bodies were limited.


With not only worrying about containing a deadly virus, medical authorities now also have to ensure water purification systems of major cities are not congested by dead bodies.


As the proverb goes, “What is sport to the cat, is death to the rat,” a similar situation unfolds in India. While family members grapple with the loss of their loved ones, others see this as a profitable opportunity. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, seven individuals were held for allegedly stealing clothes and items from dead bodies from the local crematorium. The accused would apparently wash the shrouds, sarees, and other clothes taken from the dead bodies, and package them again to sell in the market.


The situation in India is not and should not be something the country has to handle and face alone. The pandemic is the greatest example of how interconnected the world really is and if places like India have a high level of infection, then there is a great chance that it can easily spread to other countries.


Even with great travel restrictions, numerous diagnostic tests, and quarantine periods, it is highly likely that the infection will leak out. This is especially relevant if a traveller has come from somewhere where the virus is very prevalent since they have a higher chance of carrying the virus with them. It has been reported that in a recent flight from New Delhi to Hong Kong, around 50 passengers had tested positive for COVID-19. This has also encouraged numerous countries to close their borders to India, including Australia.


Speaking to BBC World News, World Health Organisation’s chief scientist, Dr Soumaya Swaminathan, says “The virus doesn’t respect borders, or nationalities, or age, or sex, or religion.”


Dr Swaminathan’s words cannot hold greater power, as they sum up the contagious nature of the virus and the relevance of coming together as a community to fight against this battle.


After all, this is not just a crisis for India – it is a crisis for everyone.


To help those affected in India, you can donate to the following organisations which are working to provide medical supplies like oxygen and PPE:

  • Direct Relief (directrelief.org)

  • Oxygen for India (cddep.org)

  • Project HOPE (projecthope.org)

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