Still grieving the loss of her mother, Manika Goel sat at the feet of her husband who was wedged between three other patients in a hospital casualty ward in India’s capital New Delhi.
Goel’s mother, Pooja Gupta, died on Thursday morning. Now her husband Amit, 39, is in critical condition with Covid-19.
Goel, a software engineer at Indian IT giant TCS, managed to get hold of oxygen for her husband. Shortages have led to scenes of panic outside dispensers in the city, as relatives try to get empty cylinders for loved ones re-filled.
Now doctors say he needs a ventilator, and none can be found.
While the poorest in India are used to waiting for state-funded healthcare, and they are still at a disadvantage as Covid-19 floods hospitals, India’s affluent also find themselves scrambling for treatment in another sign of the severe strain the medical system is under.
“For two days I have tried thousands of numbers,” Goel said. “Everyone working for TCS is also trying to help but nobody can get anything.
“I have an eight-year-old kid. I don’t know what I will tell him (if my husband dies).”
India’s total COVID-19 cases passed 18 million on Thursday after another world record number of daily infections.
Gravediggers worked around the clock to bury victims, hundreds were cremated in makeshift pyres in parks and parking lots and people lost loved ones as they queued for oxygen that could have helped keep them alive.
The non-profit private Holy Family Hospital treating Goel is one of New Delhi’s best-equipped facilities, but a sign posted outside shows the number of available general and intensive care COVID-19 beds remains the same as any other day this week: zero.
Still patients continued to arrive on Thursday in ambulances and private vehicles, some gasping for air in casualty as their oxygen cylinders ran out.
The hospital, with a capacity to treat 275 adults, is currently caring for 390. In the intensive care unit, patients are placed on trolleys in between beds, while there are shortages of ventilators and staff.
“It is a devastatingly bad situation,” said Sumit Ray, the head of the ICU. “We have reached the point where crisis is a mild word.”
Less than a third of Indians rely on the public healthcare system for treatment, according to the latest available government data, a fact some experts say has compounded the country’s misery.
Ray said many patients were dying as they shuttle between hospitals looking for beds due to a lack of coordination between authorities.
“There is no shortcut to public health, no opting out from it,” Vidya Krishnan, a veteran Indian health journalist who is a fellow at Harvard University, wrote in the Atlantic.
“Now the rich sit alongside the poor, facing a reckoning that had only ever plagued the vulnerable in India.”