On the night of 17 April, Jadiben Chunnilal rushed her 60-year-old husband, Chunnilal, to the trauma centre of Ahmedabad’s Sheth Vadilal Sarabhai General Hospital in an autorickshaw. As she and her son struggled to move Chunnilal to a stretcher, security guards outside the trauma centre surrounded them and refused them entrance. “This is a COVID-19 hospital, you will have to find a bed elsewhere,” the guard told them.
Jadiben, a frail and elderly woman, wept and pleaded with the guards till they let the stretcher inside. A few minutes later, the same stretcher was carried back out with Chunnilal’s body. A member of the hospital staff declared that he was already dead by the time he arrived at the hospital. “I had searched everywhere for treatment, everywhere,” Jadiben cried. The security guards urged her to load her husband’s body into the auto and leave quickly. “There are more ambulances coming with COVID-19 patients. We can’t let these people dawdle here,” one guard told me. Two ambulances drove up as he completed his sentence.
Ahmedabad ranks tenth in the list of Indian cities with the highest burdens of active COVID-19 cases, with more than 30,000 patients. The city consistently reported more than 3,000 new cases of COVID-19 every day since 17 April, recording 3,914 cases on the evening of 21 April. Official data suggests that between 20 and 25 people died from COVID-19 in the city in the week starting 11 April. However, an employee at the city’s Kagdiwad Municipal crematorium said that at least thirty COVID-19 bodies were cremated there every day. The city has 18 other crematoriums and four cemeteries for COVID-19 bodies. Imtiyaz Ujjainwala, a reporter with the local newspaper Sandesh, said he saw 63 dead bodies coming out of the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, a 1,200-bed government hospital, on a single day. “These are just the bodies I observed coming out of the hospital between 12 am and 5 pm on 12 April,” Ujjainwala told me.
On the night of 17 April, reporters from The Caravan saw lines of ambulances outside hospitals, patients with COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 ailments refused admission, and attendants lining up to collect bodies of family members at the city’s hospitals. Outside the Sheth Vadilal Sarabhai Hospital, where Jadiben had taken her husband, ambulance drivers told me that they had been shuttling COVID-19 patients from hospital to hospital for more than six hours, trying to get them admitted.