Health workers wearing personal protective equipment carry wood to prepare for a mass cremation of COVID-19 victims at a crematorium in New Delhi on April 26. CNS photo/Adnan Abidi, Reuters

India’s hospitals overrun, government blamed as pandemic surges

  • April 28, 2021

THRISSUR, India -- Catholic hospital directors in India say they do not have enough facilities to treat patients as India sets records for the number of COVID-19 deaths — numbers many people believe were underreported.

“The situation is very bad. No beds available anywhere in the hospital. Patients are on the corridors and many are dying because no beds, no oxygen,” Fr. P.A. George, director of the Holy Family Hospital in New Delhi, told CNS.

“I have no place even in emergency (area) to give oxygen. Patients are just dying in front of my eyes. Feeling so distressed and frustrated and helpless. It is horrible and the disaster is beyond the imagination. Please pray to God (to) give us strength to save some lives,” said the priest, who heads the largest Catholic hospital in New Delhi.

Though the hospital has a limit of 340 beds, it is accommodating nearly 400 patients, he added.

On April 27, India reported 323,144 new cases and 2,771 deaths. The stretched health care system in the country of 1.3 billion people has been reporting a lack of hospital beds, medical oxygen, vaccines and antiviral medicines as thousands seek medical care.

Some Catholic leaders have called on the federal government to deploy the military to deal with the crisis before it worsens.

“The second wave of COVID-19 is surely a national calamity, and the entire nation is struggling as thousands are dying and hundreds of thousands are getting infected daily,” said Auxiliary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas of Ranchi, former secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

“The federal government should consider deploying military personnel to assist the civil administration to effectively deal with this alarming situation of people living in fear,” he told April 27.

In Gujarat state, Syro-Malabar Fr. Thomas Nadackalan, director of Christ Hospital in Rajkot, told Catholic News Service “we have to turn away around 600 cases daily.”

“We are struggling to get oxygen in time to save the lives of those admitted,” he said. Of the 70 beds in the hospital, he added, 40 are set apart for those needing oxygen treatment.

The inadequate care and treatment in government hospitals in Ahmedabad, commercial capital of Gujarat, drew national attention as even the widespread deaths were underreported by the state government.

The national English daily The Hindu carried an investigative story exposing the hollowness of the government claim of only 78 deaths April 16, citing cremation of 689 bodies in seven cities alone.

“We have lost a dozen members of our community here,” P.T. Chacko, president of Gujarat Syro-Malabar Catholic Association, told CNS April 26. He, his wife and daughter were recovering from COVID-19.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, offered the Church’s full support in “the war against the dreadful COVID-19 situation in the country.”

“There was lack of planning and lack of foresight. Otherwise, we would not have been in the awful situation we are in now,” Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai, said.

In the week of April 18-25, India witnessed exponential spread of the pandemic across the country.

“The world is concerned about the situation in India and I am getting several calls,” said Gracias, endorsing widespread criticism in India against the federal government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for its failure to prepare for the second surge.

COVID-19 infections had peaked at 93,000 cases per day in mid-September in India. The infections declined steadily to 11,000 cases by February, but climbed to 52,000 on April 1.

India media has been witnessing an unprecedented avalanche of criticism for the shortage of medicines, vaccines and even oxygen that the government had been exporting to other countries. The newspaper India Today reported the government failed to act on a February parliamentary committee report that had urged it to augment its oxygen production in preparation for a second surge.

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