Women mourn the death of a family member, who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), outside a crematorium in New Delhi, India. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Women mourn the death of a family member, who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), outside a crematorium in New Delhi, India. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

South African families spending sleepless nights worried about their loved ones in India as Covid-19 tsunami continues to rage

By Tanya Waterworth, Sameer Naik Time of article published May 1, 2021

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As death surges across India, overwhelming mortuaries and filling makeshift pyres, South African families are spending sleepless nights worried about their loved ones as they fight to survive the Covid-19 tsunami.

In Kempton Park, on the East Rand, Eaizaan Mohammed, an Indian national, is worried about his family in Delhi who he has learnt may have Covid-19.

“My family are not doing well at all. They are all experiencing flu symptoms, but are too scared to go to the doctors’ rooms and the hospital.

“Most people who go to doctors are dying, so my family has been avoiding that altogether. There are also rumours that the patients are having certain organs removed at hospitals, like their kidneys.

“My family won’t go to a hospital. They buy medicine at the chemist instead and take it home. They have no other option,” he said, adding he has had little sleep since news of the surge broke.

Mohammed said he had been in daily contact with his family.

“I am incredibly concerned because I am so far away and cannot help them.”

Yesterday there were 385 000 new reported cases of Covid-19 in India – a new global record.

In the last 24 hours, there were 3 645 deaths as the country’s healthcare system continued to be overwhelmed by the disease.

Yesterday, Capetonians Ronnie Kapoor and his wife Preeti, who were caught in lockdown in Delhi last year and are still there, described the situation as being “very, very bad”.

“The population in general thought Covid had left them and, to a large extent, stopped wearing masks. The surge here could be attributed largely to the fact the government gave the people the false impression that India had defeated Covid and put all activities back to normal,” they said.

Another South African who lives in Delhi, but who did not want to be named, described what he was seeing in India’s capital city.

“The situation in Delhi is incredibly bad. All hospitals are packed to capacity. There are people sitting in parking lots of hospitals waiting to be helped.”

He added that the wealthy had left the big cities and those that remained were paying astronomical sums of money for oxygen cylinders and medication.

“I have heard people are willing to pay $100 000 (about R1.4 million) for an oxygen tank. The hospitals are also prioritising politicians and their families. The situation is absolutely dire.”

The cause of this massive flare up of infections and deaths, explained Enver Govender, the editor of the online magazine Chennai News, was India’s failure to learn from other countries.

“More than Covid, it seems the lack of oxygen supplies are killing people. The huge election rallies have no doubt contributed to the surge in numbers.

“Possibly the biggest mistake was allowing the Kumba Mela (religious gathering) to take place where about 10 million people attended,” said Govender, a South African expat who grew up in Durban.

Vaccinologist and dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits University, Professor Shabir Madhi, said there were at least three variants of concern circulating in India.

He also warned against counting on reaching “herd immunity”.

“India’s decision to relax protocols because they believed they reached herd immunity was poor political judgement at the expense of public health. The allowing of mass gatherings, including religious and electioneering, provide a perfect recipe for an explosion of cases,” said Madhi yesterday.

He explained that mutations had made the pathogen more transmissible and able to evade immunity induced by previous exposure to earlier Covid-19 viruses and first generation vaccines.

Madhi said unlike India, South Africa could not afford to become complacent, and warned that a third wave was “being experienced in the Northern Cape, the North West, and Free State in SA, and likely that will start emerging elsewhere”.

He said the timing of a third wave was dependent on multiple factors such as human behaviour and going into winter, people were more likely to gather indoors.

“The main focus of vaccination needs to be targeted at preventing hospitalisation and death, which all the vaccines will likely do quite well,” said Madhi, highlighting that, “it’s highly unlikely that we will reach the so-called ’herd immunity’ threshold anytime soon in SA”.

Yesterday, South African relief organisation, Gift of the Givers, called on “humanity to respond” to the Covid-19 disaster in India.

Gift of the Givers director Imitiaz Sooliman said they would be helping the stricken nation.

“The world is watching a catastrophe unfolding in India, a Covid-19 tsunami has struck the country and the official figures are nowhere near the real tragedy, insiders affirm.

“The pictures, as graphic as they are, can never adequately convey the emotion, pain, suffering and desperation. Living inside a disaster is very different to observing it. If observing it from a distance is horrific, imagine living in it.

“The request is simple: we need oxygen and oxygen delivery devices, we have everything else,” said Sooliman.

‒ additional reporting: Jolene Marriah-Maharaj/IOL

The Saturday Star

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