India’s 21-day Lockdown: The heroes on the frontline of India’s coronavirus war

Experts have warned that India still has time to contain what otherwise could be a catastrophic outbreak, putting millions of lives at risk.

Many fear that the country's healthcare system may not be able to cope with a massive outbreak. Around 130 million people will head to hospitals even if 10% of India's population is infected, according to conservative estimates.

And the country only has 0.5 hospital beds per 1,000 people, one of the lowest ratios in the world, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

So, India is pinning its hope of containing the outbreak on social distancing and a complete lockdown of major cities and towns. And the success is down to the efforts of unknown but selfless workers.

Many workers, including doctors, nurses, paramedics, police, pilots, railway workers and rubbish collectors, are braving grave odds every day.

And medical staff are at the forefront of these efforts.
Dr Taarini Johri, a medical officer at a government-run hospital in the western city of Ahmedabad, said the medical sector "was not prepared to deal with the crisis”.

"Doctors and nurses working in the coronavirus wards have good safety equipment. But doctors who are screening patients don't have the same despite the fact that we are at most risk," she said. "A lot of doctors are at risk. We desperately need more safety gear.” 

Priya Srivastava, a doctor at a hospital in the northern city of Lucknow, said "the time to act is now”. “We need to build makeshift hospitals quickly. If community transmission aggravates, we will have to be ready for it - it will be unlike any scenario we have seen before or we are trained for,” she said.

She added that the flu season is making matters worse. “There is so much panic. People are reaching hospitals with minor coughs and colds, thinking they are infected with Covid-19. So, we need to keep hammering the right message about how to identify coronavirus symptoms.”

Dr VK Batra, who has been practising medicine in Delhi for more than three decades, says doctors are "doing everything we can". “I have just one key message for people - stay at home. Just do this for a few weeks and we may have a fighting chance to control the outbreak.”

"Some of us have to stay away from our families for days so we can continue to see patients. That's stressful, but we don't have any other option. We are fighting an enemy we didn't expect to fight or even see coming.

“We are not getting personal protection equipment as quickly as we should,” he said. "We are the frontline soldiers and you can't win a war without them.”

India has now allowed private labs to conduct coronavirus tests, and some lab technicians are being trained. Amardeep Chaudhary is one of them.

"I am used to going to people's homes to collect samples. We take care to protect ourselves. But coronavirus is something different. I am scared for sure, but I won't give up," he said. While doctors are fighting the battle inside hospitals, it's the police who have to enforce the lockdown outside.

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