The Face of India’s Virus Awareness Campaign Has COVID-19. His VIP Treatment Highlights The Inequality in Healthcare Access

Indian film legend Amitabh Bachchan and his son Abhishek were admitted to an isolation facility with mild symptoms, even as patients needing critical care are unable to access medical treatment.
July 13, 2020, 2:36pm
Amitabh Bachchan coronavirus india
Indian Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan (L), accompanied by wife Jaya (2nd L) and son Abhishek (R) with wife Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (2nd R) pose following a press conference in Mumbai on February 9, 2013. Photo courtesy of Indranil Mukherjee / AFP

Amitabh Bachchan, Bollywood superstar and face of the Indian government’s COVID-19 awareness campaign who has been accused in the past of spreading misinformation about the disease, tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, July 11.

Members of three generations of the 77-year-old Bachchan’s family, often described as Bollywood’s First Family, tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Mumbai. They include his son and actor Abhishek Bachchan, his daughter-in-law, actor and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, and his eight-year-old granddaughter.

Jaya Bachchan, the actor’s wife and a member of India’s Upper House of Parliament, tested negative. In addition, 30 members of the family’s staff were tested for COVID-19; their results are yet to be announced.

Bachchan - often described as India’s most influential actor - and son, have mild symptoms and are in a Mumbai hospital; doctors described their condition as stable and said that they do not need aggressive treatment. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and her daughter are asymptomatic and in home isolation.

Indian health authorities, often criticised during the COVID-19 outbreak for their slow response, reacted to the most-high-profile novel coronavirus infections in the country with surprising swiftness.

Rajesh Tope, the Minister of Health for the western state of Maharashtra of which Mumbai is the capital, delivered a public statement on the actor’s condition.

Bachchan and son were admitted to Nanavati Hospital, a prominent facility in the city. As per Maharashtra’s health department guidelines, COVID-19 patients are admitted to hospitals based on the severity of their symptoms, while asymptomatic or mild cases can quarantine at home.

Bachchan’s four houses in Mumbai were sanitised and sealed off by municipal authorities.

Mumbai, the epicenter of the outbreak in India, is struggling to deal with the spike in novel coronavirus cases. In May 2020, a viral video showed corpses of COVID-19 patients lying in the same bed as infected patients.

There are also many cases of patients with severe symptoms unable to access hospital beds and oxygen support. Even as the local municipal corporations work overtime to establish makeshift hospitals across Mumbai, they also acknowledged that they lack skilled medical workers to help out on the frontlines.

Many critical patients are on waitlists, and some have died while waiting for hospitals and ambulances to show up.

Many social media users criticised the actor’s alleged VIP treatment. Even as the whole nation battles the deadly virus, they decried that the rich and famous tend to get urgent attention, while those in need are repeatedly denied access to basic healthcare.

Similar outrage erupted in the U.S. when celebrities like Kris Jenner, Heidi Klum and Idris Elba accessed tests at a time when ordinary citizens and even medical workers weren’t getting tested.

While Bachchan helped the government raise awareness on COVID-19, the information he shared was ironically, not always accurate..

In March, many social media users criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to clang utensils as a show of support for healthcare workers as a PR stunt. Bachchan supported Modi and insisted the vibrations from these sounds have the potential to destroy the potency of the deadly coronavirus. The claim was so viral that the government’s Press Information Bureau had to issue a fact-check.

The actor was also pulled up for a tweet which advocated homeopathy, a pseudoscientific form of alternative medicine, as a potential cure for COVID-19. Nanavati Hospital, where Bachchan and his son are currently admitted, treats patients using allopathic medicine.

Mumbai has had a total of 92,720 cases, of which 22,556 are active. There have also been 5,285 COVID-19 related deaths in the city. India, which is third on the list of countries with the most COVID-19 cases, has recorded a total of 878,254 cases and 23,174 deaths.

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