Coronavirus Pandemic

India Covid crisis: Expats in UAE feel helpless as they lose loved ones back home

Dhanusha Gokulan (Principal Correspondent)/Dubai Filed on April 28, 2021 | Last updated on April 29, 2021 at 12.11 am
Bhuvanesh with his mother Pammi. - Supplied photo

The Dubai-based chartered accountant’s mother had suddenly turned critical as she battled Covid-19 in India.

Six days ago, Bhuvnesh Handa received a call that changed his life forever.

The Dubai-based chartered accountant’s mother, 67-year-old Pammi Handa, had suddenly turned critical as she battled Covid-19 in India.

And before Bhuvnesh knew it, he found himself on a video call with her sister — watching his mother’s funeral.

His mother, a retired lawyer with the Delhi High Court, was diagnosed with Covid on April 14. Though her oxygen levels weren’t a matter of concern in the first few days, matters slipped out of the family’s hands nine days later.

“After her condition got bad, she was admitted to a small hospital in Gurugram, southwest of New Delhi. By 4am on April 23, doctors at the hospital informed us that she would have to be moved to a bigger facility since they did not have the infrastructure to treat her,” said Bhuvnesh.

Covid in India: Expats in UAE ask how they can help as cases surge

His sister and brother-in-law back home struggled to find a hospital bed and a non-invasive ventilator for their mother. They had to deal with everything some would only see in the news — “from the red tape to the black-marketing of beds and medicines”.

After the frantic search for help — as Bhuvnesh tightly held his phone — his mother breathed her last at 12.30pm on the same day.

“The next major challenge we faced after that was to arrange the cremation. The process has lost all dignity back home,” Bhuvnesh, a Dubai resident of five years, told Khaleej Times.

After their mother’s demise, the family had to wait outside a crematorium for five hours before they could complete the final rites.

Covid in India: Expats worry about lack of hospital beds back home

“As per Hindu customs, we don’t have funerals after sunset. All of that is being foregone now,” he added. “My mother was a source of oxygen to a lot of people. She was grounded, down to earth and a humble soul. In the last stages of her life, she ran out of oxygen,” said Bhuvnesh.

His story is one of the many gut-wrenching experiences Indian expatriates in the UAE and worldwide are facing. Scores of residents have said they feel shattered and helpless as their loved ones succumb to the disease back home.

India’s death toll from the coronavirus surged past 200,000 on Wednesday, the country’s deadliest day, as shortages of oxygen, medical supplies and hospital staff compounded a record number of new infections.

The second Covid wave has seen at least 300,000 people test positive each day for the past week, overwhelming healthcare facilities and crematoriums and fuelling an increasingly urgent international response.

Covid-19: Expats stuck in India pray UAE flights will resume soon

Due to travel restrictions, flying home to be with family has become a challenge for expats like Bhuvnesh. He has had to grieve for his mother, hundreds of miles away from home. “I’m 40 years old. I’ve stayed with my parents for 35 years before I moved to Dubai. I used to share everything with her. I feel like a computer that has lost its CPU,” he lamented.

“As I was sitting in the UAE, there was absolutely no way to ensure that the information made available about hospital beds and medicines are accurate. I was making video calls to my sister at all times…That is how I saw her funeral as well,” he explained.

Bhuvnesh had to deal with black-marketeers offering a bed space for Rs5,000 (Dh250) and one vial of the drug Remdesivir for Rs50,000, but its market value was only Rs600. “There were only three hospitals in our locality that have an NIV ventilator — AIIMS, Medanta Hospital, and Artemis. After calling several contacts, we finally got our mother to Artemis, but it was too late,” he said.

'We lost six relatives; two more are about to go'

Dubai-based social activist and philanthropist Juhi Yasmeen Khan said her family had lost six of her close relatives, including her father-in-law and two uncles, in just two weeks amid the second surge in India. She said two more are critically ill and they fear the worst.

"I've lost count of how many relatives of mine are sick. Two deaths were in Delhi, three in Meerut, and one death was in Lucknow. We don't have the time to grieve for one person. At the next minute, we are making calls to search for facilities for those who are sick," she stated.

"All of them died because medical aid was delayed. They were careful people; they did not go for any gatherings and followed all precautions," she said. "It doesn't matter even if you are well connected. Even those with influence are unable to do anything. I cannot imagine what the commoner is going through," she said.

After losing her grandfather in Lucknow, A.R (name withheld at request) said, "I am unable to console my parents back home. They were waiting outside the hospital for medical aid when he passed." A. R's grandfather passed away on April 26. Khan recommends that interim camps be set up outside hospitals so those waiting outside can get help. "Also, for basic medical aid, the government needs to employ medical students, trainees, and volunteers to work during this time," she added. "It is a war-like situation. Everyone who wants to help must be called in for help," recommended Khan.


Dhanusha Gokulan

Originally from India, Dhanusha Gokulan has been working as a journalist for 10 years. She has a keen interest in writing about issues that plague the common person and will never turn down a human interest story. She completed her Bachelor in Arts in Journalism, Economics and English Literature from Mangalore University in 2008. In her spare time, she dabbles with some singing/songwriting, loves travelling and Audible is her favourite mobile application. Tweet at her @wordjunkie88

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