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Where the hell are Covid hospital beds in Delhi?

June 12, 2020 14:31 IST

Locals are overly concerned as horrifying tales emerge of patients running from pillar to post to secure beds or even get themselves tested.

IMAGE: A suspected COVID-19 patient waits to be admitted at a government hospital in New Delhi. Photograph: Kamal Kishore/PTI Photo

With the number of Covid-19 cases set to explode in Delhi, residents are increasingly concerned about the future as horrifying tales emerge of patients running from pillar to post to secure hospital beds or even get themselves tested.

The fear of the infection almost equals the dread of navigating the complicated testing protocols and getting to the right doctor, say residents as governmental claims on hassle-free access to treatment and the number of beds clash with anecdotal reality.

On Wednesday, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal projected that the city would require 1.5 lakh beds. A day earlier, his deputy Manish Sisodia said the total number of coronavirus cases could rise to 5.5 lakh by July end, a quantum jump from the 32,810 cases as of Thursday.

Though the government claims there are more beds than needed, the national capital's COVID-19 reality, retold through social and other media, is also about the anguish of sons, daughters, wives and others trying desperately to get medical help for their unwell family members.

“He is no more. The govt failed us.”

That was the brief, almost staccato message on Twitter from social activist Amarpreet Kaur who took to the microblogging site to first seek help to get her father admitted and then to announce his death.

Her father tested positive for COVID-19 on June 1, but was advised home isolation. When his condition started deteriorating, the family took him to the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash hospital – Delhi government's designated COVID-19 hospital. But the doctors, the family alleged, were unhelpful and asked them to go to Ganga Ram hospital instead.

"My dad is having high fever. We need to shift him to hospital. I am standing outside LNJP Delhi & they are not taking him in. He is having corona, high fever and breathing problem. He won't survive without help. Pls help," Kaur tweeted.

An hour later, he was dead -- outside the hospital.

LNJP authorities denied her charge.

That was not the end of her story. The family needed to get tested. And she again had to go on Twitter to ensure it happens.

Aman Pathak was luckier. He also did the round of hospitals in an effort to get his father admitted to a hospital and finally managed to do so. The father is at the Intensive Care Unit of the LNJP hospital.

Recounting his struggles, Pathak said his 51-year-old father developed high fever on May 24 but it subsided after a few days.

"However, my father lost his appetite. We thought he had mild symptoms so we took care of him at home. But from June 3, he started developing breathing issues. I took him to several hospitals, both private and government, but most of them turned us away," said the 24-year-old software engineer.

On June 4, he even tried to get his father tested at the Delhi-government run Ambedkar Hospital, but failed to do so immediately. He tested positive the following day but now, of course, needed a hospital.

That's when the rounds began. He went from one hospital to another to be told that there were no beds. Pathak tried to reason that the app developed by the Delhi government showed otherwise but to no avail.

"My father could not even walk, but I took him to hospitals in that condition, only to be turned away," he said.

He also sent out desperate tweets seeking help. Finally, on June 6, he managed to get his father admitted at the Ambedkar Hospital. From there, he was moved to the LNJP.

His fingers crossed, Pathak is hoping his father returns home soon.

Five days after his father developed fever, another Delhi man started shows signs of the novel coronavirus on May 29. Nine days later, he died in Bhopal without ever going to a hospital or getting any treatment.

He first went to a local health care centre and told to go home after taking paracetamol. He also went to the GTB Hospital for a test but was reportedly turned away. Over the next week, the man went to five hospitals only to be turned away by each one of them.

With no option left, his teen son in Bhopal asked him to travel to the city.

And so, with a fever of 103-degree F, the man even took a train to the Madhya Pradesh capital, his high fever going undetected both at the Delhi and Bhopal railway stations.

On June 7, he died.

IMAGE: Suspected COVID-19 patients wait to be admitted after being shifted from Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar hospital to LNJP hospital, during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, in New Delhi. Photograph: Manvender Vashist/PTI Photo

Back in Delhi, his 15-year-old daughter also tested positive for COVID-19 while his wife got an asthma attack due to the shock.

"When the time to test these (medical) facilities came, a promising person, who wandered in Delhi for five days but did not get treatment, died," Madhya Pradesh Health Minister Narottam Mishra told reporters after the man's death, hitting out at claims about Delhi's health infrastructure.

The stories continue in a seemingly endless loop.

Whether well-heeled and connected or poor and with no resources, the stories found resonance everywhere. Of frustrating struggles to get tested and then treated.

Several people complained that the Delhi government has launched an app to give information on availability of beds and ventilators but the reality is different. Many a time, even the helpline goes unanswered.

On June 3, 42-year-old Narender Jain died of COVID-19. His family ran from one hospital to another in east Delhi. Jain, who suffered from diabetes, developed fever in the last week of May. When his situation deteriorated, the family looked for a hospital.

On June 1, the two hospitals they first approached did not have the facility to test coronavirus patients. They moved to a private hospital which had the facility to conduct a coronavirus test but not a bed for COVID-19 patients.

His brother-in-law Vikas Jain told journalists that he was moved to a super speciality hospital which had beds but no ventilator. Finally, he was moved to the GTB Hospital which did have a ventilator.

But it was too late.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi this week shared a video of journalist Ajay Jha seeking help for treatment.

Jha's entire family -- wife, two daughters aged nine and five, and in-laws -- tested positive. He said his in-laws had died within 10 days.

The Delhi government is saying that everything is in control but people have been left to god's will, he said.

According to an official of the Delhi government, they contacted Jha and the family is now being given proper care.

These accounts could well be the tip of the proverbial iceberg as Delhi battles the pandemic. Not everyone has the wherewithal and means to access social media.

On May 30, Kejriwal said his government is “several steps ahead” of the novel coronavirus. There are a total of 6,600 beds and 4,500 of them are still unoccupied, he had said, adding that by June the capacity will be ramped up to 9,500 beds.

As of Thursday morning, there were 9,179 beds in both private and Delhi government hospitals of which 4,279 were vacant -- more than 50 per cent.

However, the reality, as Aman Pathak, Amarpreet Kaur, the teen in Bhopal and his sister in Delhi, and Narendra Jain's family will testify, is quite different.

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