COVID-positive patient visits three Delhi hospitals in 16 hours before being admitted

The Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, in Delhi Gate, refused to admit a patient who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus for almost sixteen hours in the intervening night of 23 and 24 April. The patient, a man named Razzak, visited the hospital thrice over the course of one night, only to be referred to other facilities, which too would turn him down. Sushil Kumar / Hindustan Times / Getty Images
29 April, 2020

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.

“We got very scared after that and decided that we should go to the hospital immediately,” Farzana told me. She said that around 6 pm, she, Razzak and Sattar took an autorickshaw from Burari and travelled to the RML hospital, about twenty kilometres away. Since public transport will be unavailable during the lockdown, the family spoke to an acquaintance and hired his autorickshaw for the entire day. “We didn’t know how painful the night was going to be for us,” she said. “We just thought people would know how serious it was and take him in.” The family reached RML at around 7pm, but once at the hospital, Farzana told me that “they just kept sending us from one place to the other.” She said they first went “to a testing area. Later, we found out it was the diagnostic desk.” Farzana said that the staff at the diagnostic desk “told us to look for another doctor, and then the doctor told us to get tested again.” Farzana said that “the doctor didn’t believe the test result” from Lal Path Labs, but the diagnostic desk refused to test Razzak again since he had already tested positive for the virus.

Farzana said that they kept shuttling between the desk and doctors for over half an hour. Eventually, the doctor at RML refused to admit Razzak, and “told us to go to LNJP.” The LNJP hospital is about five kilometres away from RML. Farzana told me that the doctor asked them to get Razzak treated at LNJP “because it is not under them.” Farzana said, “I do not know, neither could I understand what they meant, what comes ‘under’ whom.”

At around 8.30 pm, the family reached the LNJP hospital for the first time that night. However, the reception staff at LNJP told them that the hospital only takes in serious patients, and that they would have to move Razzak to a hospital which had been designated as a quarantine centre in Kaushik Enclave, in Burari. Ahmad said that the reception staff “just looked at the report and told us that he didn’t look sick enough.” By now it was already 9 pm, and the family had been on the roads for over three hours in an attempt to get Razzak treated. Farzana told me that soon after they left for the quarantine centre in Burari, about eighteen kilometres from LNJP. But when they reached the centre around 9.45 pm, to their utter shock, they found out that the centre was not even operational. A guard outside the centre told them, “There is nothing here, it has not started yet.” Farzana told me they were at a complete loss of what to do. “I just wish we were stronger. We didn’t know anyone or anything, all that we could do was do what they said.”

Farzana often oscillated between anger and grief while I spoke to her. “There’s so much panic in the television, everyone is asking to do this or that, but we didn’t get any help, nobody helped us.” She said that the family then decided to go back to LNJP. At around 10.30 pm, they reached LNJP for the second time that night. Farzana said that this time the reception staff told them to go to the Mahadurga Charitable Trust Hospital, in Model Town, some twelve kilometres away.

Ahmad said that they arrived at Mahadurga between 12.30 am to 1 am, but the hospital again refused to entertain them. “They told us there would be no treatment,” Farzana said, and added, “We were standing around and asking them what was going to happen. They simply said that they didn’t have the facilities and that we had to go elsewhere.” By now, the family was exhausted, scared and utterly helpless. “Why did LNJP send us there if the hospital had no facilities?” Farzana said. Ahmad told me that by then they were tired of being pushed around but they “had no other choice but to head back to LNJP. They made us run around so much; I didn’t know what to do.”

At around 3 am, the family reached LNJP again, for the third time that night. Farzana said, “We all decided that now we would not leave until we could get treatment. Razzak was just extremely tired.” Meanwhile, one of Farzana’s friends managed to get a hold of Agarwal, who is an advocate in the Delhi High Court. Agarwal asked Farzana to record a video to appeal for help, and tweeted about their ordeal at around 3.15 am. Agarwal told me, “There are so many things on paper but the reality of it is completely different. This case clearly shows the reality is different.” He added, “If a man is approaching you in the middle of pandemic like this, with his own volition, you are rejecting him? How can you do this? This government only has concern on paper.” He added, “The system was barely functioning before the virus, how will it function now?” According to Agarwal, this was the reason that many people, who cannot afford the coronavirus tests, were still scraping money together and getting tests done in private facilities.

At LNJP, the family was again asked to go elsewhere—this time the hospital redirected them to a quarantine centre in Wazirabad, at the Police Training Centre, which has been converted into a COVID-19 quarantine facility. Farzana said that the doctors at LNJP “promised the centre would admit Razzak.” But when the family reached the centre, which is about fourteen kilometres from LNJP, they were again denied entry. Ahmad told me, “We were standing some 15 meters away from the doctors who were at the security gates. And they told us that they didn’t have proof, in writing, that LNJP hospital sent us. They wanted something in writing.” Ahmad and Farzana tried arguing with the doctors and administrators at the quarantine centre. “They told us to our faces, ‘We won’t let you in, unless you talk to someone big or get a letter from the hospital,’” Ahmad added.

“They told us to call the police, and the police didn’t help us, we called 100 so many times and it didn’t matter,” Ahmad told me. He said that the staff at the centre then told them to call an ambulance. “They said that an ambulance would take him to LNJP and then get him admitted,” he said. “It was only after a few calls and pleading, that the operators of the 102 line were able to call it in.”

At around 8 am, the ambulance arrived at the quarantine centre and took Razzak to LNJP—this would be the fourth time that Razzak would be back at the hospital. However, Ahmad said that they were not allowed to accompany Razzak in the ambulance. Farzana told me that she and Ahmad were halfway home when Razzak called her from the ambulance and said “he won’t be admitted.” She added, “I started panicking again. I don’t know what happened after that but he somehow got admitted.” At around 2.18 pm on 24 April, Pandey, a member of the legislative assembly from Timarpur, tweeted in response to Agarwal and said that he had taken care of it. Despite repeated attempts, I could not speak to any of the administrators at the LNJP. The reception staff told me, “Nodal officer is not picking up his phone.” 

Unfortunately, Farzana’s ordeal is yet to end. Razzak was tested again after getting admitted and the result was positive for the coronavirus, again. Despite Razzak having tested positive, no one has reached out to Farzana to ensure that the rest of the family is tested, or to even check if they are following quarantine rules. She told me, “I haven’t even spoken to anyone properly, not even to anyone who is in charge.” She added, “I have four people now in this house. How are we all going to get tested? I am pregnant and my daughter is young. I hope we get free tests. I don’t know how we can pay in private for all of us.”