At around 3 am on 24 April, Farzana Sheikh, a resident of Bhalswa village in north-western Delhi, recorded a desperate plea on video. “This is my husband Razzak,” she said, and gestured to the man next to her as she spoke into the camera on her mobile phone. “After testing him for corona, it has come back as positive. We were referred to 2 or 3 hospitals, but everyone refused to admit him.” On the afternoon of 23 April, Razzak tested positive for the novel coronavirus. What followed was a night of horror as Farzana, Razzak and his father, Sattar Ahmad, spent the next 16 hours trying to get Razzak admitted to a hospital for treatment. From 6 pm that day to 10 am the next day, the family visited at least three hospitals, including two government facilities and two quarantine centres, only to be turned away for various reasons. In the intervening night between 23 and 24 April, out of sheer desperation and absolutely panicked, Farzana recorded a video on the suggestion of a lawyer, so that authorities would take notice and get them help.
As of 29 April, Delhi had recorded a total of 3,314 COVID-19 cases—third highest among all states—54 deaths and 99 red zones. Red zones are designated cluster-containment areas, which are required to follow the strictest quarantine protocols. Three days earlier, during a media briefing, the chief minister Arvind Kejriwal told reporters that the lockdown in Delhi would not be relaxed before 3 May, as his government was focussed on “efforts to reduce the number of COVID-19 infections in Delhi.”
But Farzana and Razzak’s ordeal points to a completely contradictory situation on the ground. Razzak was refused admission by both the government hospitals they visited—the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Connaught Place and the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital in Delhi Gate. In fact, Razzak went to LNJP four times that night. Meanwhile, RML refused to accept the results of a test conducted outside the hospital. One of the quarantine centres they were referred to, at a hospital in Burari, was not even functional while the other, at Wazirabad, refused to let them in without “anything in writing” or unless the family “talked to someone big.” The family said that the police refused to help them despite several calls. Farzana told me that Razzak was eventually admitted at LNJP after an Aam Aadmi Party leader, Dileep Pandey, intervened when their lawyer, Ashok Agarwal, publicised their plight on Twitter.
On 19 March, when the prime minister Narendra Modi announced the “Janata Curfew,” Farzana and Razzak, who live in Noida, rushed back to their family home in Bhalswa. Around 8 April, Razzak fell ill and went to the Buddhiraja Nursing Home in Bhalswa for consultation. He was diagnosed with Typhoid on 18 April. “I was quite sick and it was serious, and then after around a week, I started to feel better,” Razzak told me. Farzana told me that the doctors at the nursing home did not seriously consider the possibility of coronavirus since his recurring symptoms, including a cough and difficulty in breathing, overlapped with the diagnosis of Typhoid. Eventually, on 21 April, the doctors recommended that he get tested for COVID-19. This seems to have been an oversight on the part of the nursing home considering that Razzak was a cab driver for a company in Noida and had come in contact with several people in the days leading to the lockdown which began on 25 March.
“We didn’t want to delay the process anymore, and wanted the test to be done very quickly,” Farzana told me. “We got a few government helpline numbers, but those were of no help. Since there is a child at home, and I am six months pregnant, we got the test done very quickly,” she said. On 22 April, Razzaq got tested at the Lal Path Labs in Hudson Lane and they got the results at around 3pm on 23 April. Farzana said that initially, the test results confused them. “We were quite perplexed,” she said. “The report said both positive and negative. We didn’t know what to make of it. We showed it to our doctor in Burari and he said it was positive.” The doctor advised that Razzaq be admitted to a hospital.