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.