On Friday evening, a journalist from northern India who tested COVID-19 positive started live-tweeting.
“I am 65 years old. Plus I have spondylitis, due to which my oxygen has reduced to 52,” stated a tweet from a man called Vinay Srivastava. “Nobody at the hospital lab, or the doctor is picking the phone.”
Oxygen saturation in the blood below the level of 94 is considered alarming for COVID-19 patients. As Twitter users flooded his post with attempts to help, one man told him to “have faith” in the state government.
“Help will come to you very soon,” tweeted one man. Srivastava responded, “For how long should I keep the faith? Now my oxygen level is 50, and the guard at the Balrampur hospital is not letting me enter.” The state’s chief minister’s media advisor also responded to his viral tweets, asking for details.
On Saturday afternoon, Srivastava tweeted, “My oxygen is 31 when some will help me (sic).”
That was his last tweet.
Over the last week, a dangerous rise in COVID-19 cases has crippled the healthcare system and set off waves of panic on the streets and online. With more than 15 million cases, India has reported more COVID-19 infections than all other countries except the United States.
However, due to India’s lack of reliable COVID-19 data, experts say that it could be the world’s worst-hit coronavirus hotspot.
As rising infections paralyse the country – it reported 273,802 new cases on Sunday – patients are struggling with access to beds, oxygen cylinders and medicine. In New Delhi, India’s capital, fewer than 100 critical care beds were available for a city of over 20 million.
Srivastava’s state, Uttar Pradesh, with a population of around 200 million – almost as much as the entire population of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country – has the second-highest number of active cases in India. On Sunday, the state recorded a record 30,000 new infections and 129 deaths in 24 hours.
In one city, a prominent hospital reported having only one bed for 50 people. The journalist’s cry for help on Twitter captured the panic, helplessness and loss of faith in the system.
On the same day as Srivastava’s last tweet went out, his son Harshit tweeted, “Papa is [no] more with us kaha gayi ambulance saloo (Papa is no longer with us. Where is the ambulance?).”
Harshit turned down an interview request with VICE World News. However, he told a reporter with The Print, who was with him during the ordeal, that three hospitals refused hospital beds for his father. One hospital asked him to get a Chief Medical Officer’s letter to get his father admitted, which he failed to get. His father died without receiving any medical care.
In the middle of an acute shortage of oxygen cylinders in the country, Harshit managed to get one from a family member. “I went to get it refilled at midnight. There was a long queue for that too, I had to fight with others to save my father,” he told The Print.
Srivastava’s death prompted the Hindu priest-turned-chief minister of the state, Yogi Adityanath, to allow admission of all positive and suspected COVID-19 patients in private and public hospitals without permission. It was, however, too little and too late for Srivastava.
The journalist’s family, in the meantime, is waiting for their report. “We will all die,” his wife Aruna told The Print. “[My husband] used to say that he was a journalist, and so he helped others even in his old age. But where is everyone now? Where is an ambulance? Where are the hospitals?”
Uttar Pradesh’s COVID-19 response over the last week has received criticism. Last week, photos and videos of burial grounds overflowing with bodies went viral. One crematorium caught fire because too many bodies were being burnt at the same time. The state administration then came under fire for trying to cover graveyards with tin sheets to block the public view and photographers.
The state is also facing a critical vaccine shortage and is the worst-performing state in India in terms of vaccination – only 2.29 percent have been inoculated.
Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.