India’s second COVID-19 wave sparks selfless acts, but the battle is far from over

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With hospitals pushed to the limit, good Samaritans have stepped forward to save lives. But beating the second wave — and preventing a third — will take a lot more, experts tell the programme Insight.

People feared they would die if they stepped out of their homes. In the streets, people were weeping beside the dead. Oxygen and hospital beds were in dire shortage.

As new cases in India exceeded 400,000 and deaths exceeded 4,000 on some days last month, even the rich and connected were not spared from the devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the virus did not kill the spirit of generosity.

In Mumbai, kidney dialysis patient Rozy Saldhana and her husband had basic medical facilities including an oxygen cylinder set up at home for emergencies. Despite her kidney failure, the 52-year-old did not hesitate to give the cylinder to someone else who needed it.

Her husband, Pascol, had received a call from his friend, a school principal. The husband of a teacher needed oxygen but could not get hold of a cylinder.

When Saldhana — who has been on dialysis for five years — heard about it, she told her husband to give their cylinder to the man. “Don’t worry about me. I’m fit enough,” her husband recollected her saying.

She did not stop there. She told her husband to sell all her jewellery and buy oxygen to help more people. He received 80,000 rupees (S$1,450) from the sale and did as his wife had asked.

Over in Delhi, a Sikh voluntary organisation called Khalsa Help International has set up makeshift hospital facilities in several locations to treat patients. Its free oxygen support service has saved thousands of lives since late April.

Its founder, Gurpreet Singh Rummy, said the group has not refused anyone. It has served more than 15,000 people, of whom around 8,000 to 10,000 had arrived in a critical state and would have died without oxygen support, he said.

“Whether you’re coming in a rickshaw or a Mercedes-Benz, we treat all equally. Our only priority is the level of oxygen,” he told the programme Insight. While getting supplies is not easy, he told Reuters that the organisation’s volunteers “travel hundreds of kilometres” to fetch oxygen, and “you can’t expect such zeal from most government bodies”.

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