“ Please help! COVID-19 tragedy spreads on social media in India

These days, social media posts in India are no longer cheeky photos, funny memes or political jokes. Instead, frantic calls to save lives flood Twitter and Instagram as the latest wave of coronavirus cases and deaths overwhelm hospitals and crematoriums across the country.

On Bharath Pottekkat’s Instagram feed, a message shouts “Mumbai, help us! Lungs damaged due to pneumonia. Need a bed in intensive care. Another said, “Plasma urgently needed for treatment of Covid patient at Max Hospital in Delhi.” More follow. “Urgent injection of Tocilizumab. Please DM if you know the stock in and around Mumbai. “

New calls land with each refresh. “My brain can’t handle the social media overload,” said Pottekkat, a 20-year-old law student from Delhi. “I can’t process what I’m reading. I feel numb.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Telegram are all inundated with messages from distraught family members and friends asking for everything from hospital beds to medications, CT scans, COVID-19 tests at the door. and even food for the elderly in quarantine.

The desperate appeals, hoping someone responds with a quick cure, offer a glimpse into the ongoing tragedy shaking a country of 1.3 billion people that now has the COVID-19 workload to grow the most. fastest in the world. The messages also reveal panic and disarray amid shortages of drugs, intensive care beds and medical oxygen.

Highlighting the grim situation, India on Wednesday reported a record 2,023 new Covid-19-related deaths and a record 295,041 new cases. The South Asian country is second after the United States in terms of total infections after overtaking Brazil. The outbreak has forced India’s financial and political capitals – Mumbai and New Delhi – to impose movement restrictions, with the latter imposing a strict six-day lockdown from April 20. The state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, is tightening the limits from Thursday.

One particular Instagram post rocked Pottekkat. A woman at her mother’s bedside described an apocalyptic scene at a hospital in the northern city of Lucknow, where people battled to get their hands on a new batch of oxygen cylinders that had come from arrive.

Barkha Dutt, a journalist, highlighted the shortage of crematoria across the country, tweeting photos of a cremation ground in Surat, a city in the western state of Gujarat.

Nowhere is desperation more evident than in the social media thread of Ranjan Pai, the billionaire owner and co-founder of Manipal Education & Medical Group, which runs the country’s second-largest hospital chain – TPG and Manipal Health Enterprises Pvt, supported by Temasek. . Pai is inundated with MDs from hundreds of people, most of them foreigners, asking for intensive care beds, oxygen and COVID-19 medication. The 7,000 beds in its chain of 27 hospitals are full.

“We were caught off guard,” Pai said. “No country is equipped to cope with such a rapid and severe surge.”

In February, only 4% of Manipal’s beds were occupied by coronavirus patients. A few weeks later, that number rose to 65%, with the rest already occupied by cardiac emergencies, oncology and other patients. Pai’s hospitals, doctors and administrators are being taken to extremes, he said.

Ambulances parked outside a morgue wait to transfer the bodies of COVID-19 victims to a mortuary in New Delhi on Wednesday. | BLOOMBERG

Indian stocks and the rupee were hit by concern that the latest surge and the brakes will shrink the $ 2.9 trillion economy that had just recovered from a rare recession last year. The benchmark S&P BSE Sensex is down nearly 9% from its record high on February 15, as the rupee approaches its all-time low.

The collapse of the country’s decrepit public health system is evident in the heartbreaking photos on social media of several COVID-19 patients sharing a single hospital bed, a line of ambulances outside a Mumbai hospital, and people dying in waiting for oxygen. . Government helplines are suspended. Thousands of social media are advocating for the antiviral drug Remdesivir, and many more are looking for donor plasma.

There is a silver lining to this chaos, however. Stakeholders, from students to tech professionals, non-profit organizations and even Bollywood actors like Sonu Sood are mobilizing to provide meals, circulate information on the availability of hospital beds or Remdesivir. They amplified the voices of those in need of emergency assistance. Complete strangers volunteer to bring supplies and food to patient doors.

Those who put together authentic information from the crowds on social media are today’s heroes in the current situation, said Vikas Chawla, co-founder of Chennai-based digital agency Social Beat.

“It only takes a few people to move on and get there,” Chawla said.

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