On 14 April, Nidhi Juneja waited for seven hours outside the COVID-19 ward of the New Civil Hospital in Surat, Gujarat to get an update on her father-in-law. “I was here at 6 am and now it is past 1,” Juneja said. She worked as a staff nurse at a private hospital in the city. Her 70-year-old father-in-law tested positive on 7 April. His oxygen level sank to 85 percent the following day, much below a healthy adult’s level of at least 95 percent. Juneja and her husband struggled to secure a bed with oxygen support for him, despite Juneja herself being a healthcare worker. They finally got him into the government hospital, which was the only hospital that still had ventilators available.
Juneja did not hear anything about her father-in-law’s condition in the week since he was admitted. Hospital staff refused to give her updates. She worried that his health was deteriorating fast. “They told me to stop calling them,” she told me. “They said that they were waiting for patients to die so that a bed clears up for the next patient in line.” As I spoke to her, hospital attendants ran past us with a body on a stretcher and slid it into an ambulance headed for the Ashwini Kumar samshan, the city’s largest crematorium. “Every ten to fifteen minutes an ambulance comes with a patient, and then another ten minutes later, an ambulance leaves with bodies,” Juneja added. “I am losing hope.”
Across Gujarat, in cities such as Surat, Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Rajkot, hospitals are being overwhelmed with a large number of severely ill COVID-19 patients. The surge of infections in March and April across India, which has been described as the country’s second COVID-19 wave, has also shown up in Gujarat as a large number of dead overloading the state’s crematoriums. Surat officially recorded 24,215 COVID-19 infections between 12 March and 14 April and 215 COVID-19 deaths in the same time, as per data from covid19.org, a volunteer-driver crowdsourced COVID-19 tracker.
Scores of people like Juneja gathered around the hospital’s COVID-19 building on 14 April, arguing with attendants, pleading with them to send food and other essentials to the patients’ wards, and asking for updates. Meanwhile, hundreds of people lined up at the out-patient block in the scorching afternoon heat to buy Remdesivir, an antiviral drug doctors are using to treat hospitalised COVID-19 patients. The hospital was selling the drug at a subsidised rate. “I was here for a full day yesterday and since 5 am this morning, and will probably wait till the end of the day again,” Nikunj Dewani, a young man standing in the line to secure an injection for his father, said.