LONDON – First, there was the scramble to find his father a bed in intensive care. Then came the outrageous price for a therapeutic injection that was virtually impossible to find. And, through it all, countless hours on the phone with doctors, family and friends struggling with logistics.
At nearly 5,000 kilometers and five time zones, Anuja Vakil, 40, has struggled for 12 days to help manage the care of her father, Jatin Bhagat, who is in critical condition in a hospital in Ahmedabad, west of the state of Gujarat in India. . She knows he was lucky enough to receive care.
“When I pray to God now, it’s for my father,” Ms. Vakil said. “He has to come back.”
Coronavirus cases have exploded in India in recent weeks, to nearly 400,000 a day, breaking all records and continuing to rise. As they did, so did the collective grief and anxiety of the huge Indian diaspora, over lost loved ones or fighting for their lives in a shattered healthcare system. -beyond the abyss. In WhatsApp chats, video calls, Facebook groups, and forums, a global community worried, cried, and organized.
According to United Nations figures, 17 million people from India lived outside their homeland in 2020, and millions more have Indian heritage, making the world’s largest diaspora. In the United States, about 4.8 million people were born in India or reported Indian ancestry in the last census.
They watched in horror as the country recorded more infections per day than any other since the start of the pandemic. For many, the pain has come with a realization of their worst fear: that when the people they love need them most, they can’t be there to help them.
As Indians around the world frantically sought to help sick loved ones, London has become the epicenter of diaspora Covid relief efforts. Many are organizing in the face of a seemingly impossible situation, pooling money to buy oxygen concentrators, connecting those in need of care with doctors, and using community networks to share resources.
Aid shipments collected by the diaspora are starting to arrive in India, alongside government relief from Britain, the United States, Germany and Australia, among others.
Ms. Vakil tried to focus on these positive aspects. Although it has been difficult to be away from her family, she says her local Indian community in London has proven to be a lifeline, and she speaks with a friend in New York whose own father is ill. She tries to cheer her dad up with daily video calls, and her doctors are hoping he can get by.
Her father cannot speak due to the pressure-controlled ventilation that helps her breathe, but nods in response when she speaks. She can see the small folds spread around his eyes when she manages to make him smile.
“My sister said, ‘Please come, please come.’ But she doesn’t understand the difficulty, ”added Ms. Vakil.
India was added to Britain’s travel ‘red list’ last week, halting almost all direct flights and imposing an expensive and mandatory 10-day hotel quarantine for the few citizens and residents allowed in. And on Friday, the United States said it would. start restricting travel from India starting next week.
Restrictions, high costs, work commitments and fear of contracting the virus have kept many people from traveling. As coronavirus cases continue to rise, many have described painful conversations with friends and relatives at home, and a sense of helplessness as they watched the horrors unfold in a half-world.
Jyoti Minocha, a writer and substitute teacher who lives in Fairfax, Virginia, worries about her mother and sister in New Delhi. She recently lost a cousin and said she checked in with her family by phone every day. “The streets are hushed, ghostly, says my sister,” she wrote in a text message. “The only sound you hear is ambulance sirens.”
“I talk to my mother almost every day,” said Ansh Sachdeva, 23, a student at the University of Bolton in the north-west of England. “But every time I call someone is dead. Someone had Covid.
He says that on the street in New Delhi where his parents live, no house has been intact. He returned home in November to help take care of his parents and grandfather who had contracted the virus. But now he fears they will fall ill again, and the new travel restrictions would prevent him from getting there.
In January, it was his mother who worried about his return to Britain, when a disturbing second wave of the virus took hold there. “For them,” he said of the general perception in India earlier this year, “Covid was over.”
But it was not over yet. Many Indians abroad have watched with concern as the government allows cricket matches in crowded stadiums, mass election rallies and a large religious holiday called Kumbh Mela, where millions have gathered in one town. During this time, the case levels began to rise exponentially.
In Britain, home to a vibrant and diverse community of people with roots in India, the pain is palpable. At a neighborhood store in Harrow, a northwest London community with a large Indian population, two employees said they lost a brother last week.
Cultural ties between the two countries run deep, with the large British Indian diaspora estimated at over 1.5 million people – the country’s largest ethnic minority. For many, the loss, anxiety, or grief they experience when family members have fallen ill in recent weeks is making what was already a difficult year even worse, and just as Britain emerges from containment and has the hope of crushing the virus.
Harmeet Gill, 31, was born and raised in London, but his parents are from the northern Indian state of Punjab, and they remain extremely close with their extended family there.
“It’s kind of a double whammy,” he said, noting that Britain’s Indian community was among the minority ethnic groups disproportionately affected by the pandemic. “We experienced it here and we said to ourselves, ‘At least India was protected’. They were doing reasonably well.
But it did not last and on Monday her uncle died of the coronavirus. Her aunt was hospitalized on Thursday. In pre-pandemic times, his family are said to have all traveled to India to mourn their uncle, a patriarch of a close-knit Sikh family.
“It’s just pure helplessness, in a way,” he said, adding that with shock and grief there is growing anger at the government’s mismanagement. “They know it shouldn’t have happened the way it did.”
Mr Gill, who volunteers at a Sikh temple in London’s Southall, has seen the impact of the epidemic in India reverberate through his community, noting that “the sheer magnitude of it means that we are all become a little numb now. “
The temple has been a hub of aid throughout the UK outbreak, providing thousands of meals each week, and members are now looking for ways to help get home.
Indian doctors living abroad have also provided medical expertise and advice to dozens of friends and family. Many wake up early to go through dozens of messages asking for help, and some even offer video consultations.
Rajesh Hembrom, 43, from Bhagalpur, in the Indian state of Bihar, has lived and worked as a doctor in Britain since 2003. His wife is also a frontline health worker, and when cases have increased in England early last year, her elderly father and older sisters were anxious.
“They were very worried and there was a certain calm in them,” he said, “until it all blew up.
But then the dynamic changed, and as the numbers grew, family and close friends started texting, frantically seeking help. At the moment, he advises around 30 people over the phone, he said, helping to manage their care or offering any information he can. Some of the people he was trying to help have died.
“There isn’t a proper helpline that they can call, so they end up clinging to straws, and they know me, so obviously they contact me,” he said.
A childhood friend is treated in a hospital in Mumbai and his family members come into daily contact with Dr Hembrom. He fears that his friend will not succeed.
“We see a lot of deaths in our medical work,” he said. “But I have never seen so many people so close to me who have already died or who may be going to die. It’s almost like a war zone in some ways, with no visible enemy.