India Covid-19: Deadly second wave spreads from cities to small towns

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India’s deadly Covid-19 second wave has devastated big cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and Pune. Hospitals and crematoriums have run out of space, and funerals are taking place in car parks. But the pandemic has now firmly gripped many smaller cities, towns and villages where the devastation is largely under-reported.

Rajesh Soni spent eight hours taking his father from one hospital to another in a tuk-tuk in Kota district in the northern state of Rajasthan on Tuesday. He couldn’t get an ambulance and the rickety vehicle was his only option. At 5pm, he decide to end his search for a hospital bed as his father’s condition was deteriorating. He then “left everything to fate” and came home.

“I am giving him medicines at home, but I am not sure that he will survive. We have been left to die on the streets,” Rajesh said. He says several private hospitals even “conned” him and took money to do tests, only to tell him later to take his father away as there were no beds.

“I am not a wealthy person. I spent whatever I had to pay the tuk-tuk driver and to hospitals. Now I am going to borrow some money to get an oxygen cylinder at home.”

Such stories have become common in Delhi, the worst affected city in India, but similar accounts are now coming in from smaller cities and towns across the country.

The BBC looks at what’s happening in five different states to see how fast the virus is spreading there.

Kota, Rajasthan state
The city and surrounding district has reported more than 6,000 cases in the past week, and 264 deaths since the pandemic began – but 35% of those happened in April alone.

Up to 7 April, it was taking 72 days for the number of cases to double, but now it’s 27 days.

All oxygen beds were occupied, and only two out of the district’s 329 ICU units were free on 27 April. A senior journalist in the city told the BBC that hospitals were overrun and “this suggests that the actual numbers are much higher”.

There is an acute shortage of oxygen and drugs like remdesivir and tocilizumab. The district is home to many coaching centres for students from all over the country taking exams to get into prestigious medical and engineering colleges.

But the students have left and the district is now in turmoil and largely away from the radar of national and international media. The journalist said the city’s hospitals were not ready for what he described as a Covid tsunami. He said there was an urgent need to add “more oxygen and ICU beds before more people start dying on the streets”.


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