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India: "Disaster is just ahead" - doctor reports on corona crisis

India reaches new highs in the number of infected people. The rich get medical appointments, the poor fall by the wayside - a German doctor and a Caritas representative report on terrible conditions on site.

In India, on average, as many people are infected with the corona virus every day as there are in a city like Garmisch-Partenkirchen (around 27,000 inhabitants). On Sunday, the Ministry of Health announced that 28,637 people tested positive within 24 hours. And the number of unreported cases is much higher due to the comparatively few tests.

It wasn't always like this: From March to the beginning of June there was a lockdown in India. The curfews have been lifted since June - the number of new sick people has skyrocketed. So much so that centers like Bangalore and Pune have been locked down again since Tuesday.

In India, two thirds of the people have to survive on less than $ 2 a day. Protective clothing and masks? Most people cannot afford it. Keep distance? Is not possible because of the mostly cramped situation on site in the big cities and slums. In typical accommodation in metropolitan areas, around seven people live on an area of ​​ten square meters.

Fever test: A government employee tests a citizen for Covid-19. (Source: ZUMA Wire / imago images)

In large cities such as Delhi and Calcutta, on the other hand, officials are now going from house to house to test the population. In addition, the streets are sprayed with disinfectant. Try to contain the virus.

"No income, no reserves, no welfare, no food"

Dr. Tobias Vogt has been working in Calcutta since 1998. The German doctor for internal medicine and now 51-year-old works for the organization German Doctors. What he reports is shocking and alarming at the same time.

"There are irrational fears involved," says Vogt, when he discusses the situation in the neighborhood in Calcutta. "A lot of men work here on a daily wage basis on large construction sites and factories. Everything has come to a standstill now, and the day laborers have had no income for more than three months."

Dr. Tobias Vogt: The doctor for internal medicine has been working in Calcutta for 22 years. (Source: German Doctors)

This creates a situation that is life-threatening for many day laborers. "They have no reserves and there is no social security for them," continues the doctor. "They can no longer pay running costs, and then, for example, the electricity is cut off. Entire families have nothing to eat."

"Neighborhood is so scared it will drive people out of the neighborhood"

Vogt has therefore packed around 2,000 food parcels in the last two months. However, these are only enough for a week, not to provide for a family in the long term.

The situation is particularly threatening for migrant workers, who otherwise travel thousands of kilometers to find work so that they can support their families. As a result of the lockdown and the associated standstill of factories, workers have traveled back to the cities they originally came from. But there they are no longer welcomed warmly, only feared. "The neighborhood is so scared that it drives these people out of the neighborhood," reports Vogt.

The result: the workers have to go to collective accommodation in their respective hometowns and have them tested for the corona virus before they are allowed to enter their accommodation. "Their risk of developing Covid-19 is no different from the risk of the resident population," reports the doctor.

Consultation hour: Dr. Vogt and his team in protective clothing. (Source: German Doctors)

"Hygiene is not a priority"

Martina Appuhn has a similar impression. She represents the German Caritas Association in India, worked in New Delhi before the exit lock and had to take the last plane to Germany. Since then, she has been connected to the people on site from the home office via video and messages. She also reports that the poor are the ones who suffer.

"With the beginning of the lockdown, some slums were cordoned off, which has worsened the supply of the people living there," said Appuhn. The sealed fences have disappeared since the easing, the problems still persist. Appuhn continues: "The hygiene in the slums is poor: more than a hundred families often share a toilet and washing facilities. If there is water, people drink it in order to survive. Hygiene is not a priority."

Migrant workers: On the way home after the lockdown was announced. It took many of them days to arrive. (Source: Hindustan Times / imago images)

Some migrant workers were on the road for more than 20 days to get back to their hometowns. Many of them covered over 1,000 kilometers. If the government were to offer them support, their own wages would be the top priority for these people, followed by the receipt of food. None of the workers think about hygiene or health. This is the result of a survey by Caritas India among migrant workers.

"The deceased are taken to the crematoria in taxis"

Appuhn has also learned from colleagues who are still in Delhi that a lot is getting out of control: "The health system is completely overloaded. There are not enough hospital beds and intensive care units so that the sick are turned away. The number of crematoria is not enough to accommodate the deceased cremation in Delhi. The deceased are already being driven to crematoriums in taxis because funeral directors are overloaded. Railway wagons, stadiums and hotels have also been converted into hospitals. It is a huge disaster. "

Hospital: employees are in protective suits so as not to become infected. (Source: Hindustan Times / imago images)

There is hardly any protection for the poor, as Tobias Vogt knows. "I can protect myself optimally, but the locals don't have the money. When you see people outside, maybe 50 percent wear a mask. Very few families have hand disinfectants," reports the doctor from Calcutta.


Hygiene isn't the only problem. The economy also plays a role. "Labor rights were suspended to strengthen the industry," said Appuhn. The consequences of this are not good for children in particular. "What non-governmental organizations (NGOs) fought for for years has now been suspended for decades. According to statements by local NGOs, child labor, domestic violence and human trafficking will increase again in the next few years."

Violence between citizens and the police

The situation in the big cities is tense. In some neighborhoods, citizens are angry with the police. "When police officers want to disperse the queues in front of a market or a bank branch, the people who queue there react angrily. There was also violence between people in a queue and police officers here on our street," says Vogt.

India: crowd in front of Patna Junction train station. (Source: Hindustan Times / imago images)

The doctor is worried. Because in addition to the corona virus, there are other serious diseases such as tuberculosis in the country. The Covid-19 pandemic has also changed the way we deal with these ailments. Vogt normally has 30 to 40 tuberculosis diagnoses per month, most recently it was a tenth of them. "This means that there are currently many people suffering from tuberculosis in the ghettos who cannot be reached by our services. Presumably, many people are currently dying because they cannot find qualified help," says the doctor.

"However, the absolute catastrophe is only just ahead"

He is now allowed to work on an outpatient basis again. Even if this is not always easy. "Under the personal protective equipment it gets very warm and you lose a lot of fluids." Even if the government-planned Covaxin vaccine could be available in India from August, Vogt does not believe in a quick change in the country. "We'll have to be patient even longer," he says.

Day laborers in India: currently have little or no work and poor prospects for the future. (Source: Hindustan Times / imago images)

According to the Johns Hopkins University, India is now the third most affected country in the world after the USA and Brazil. Martina Appuhn is also depressed by the long-term consequences: "People are rarely tested - this is particularly true in rural regions. It is therefore assumed that the number of unreported cases is much, much higher. However, the absolute catastrophe is only imminent and results from the increased unemployment. "