A doctor checks a patient at a hospital in Mumbai during the nationwide lockdown. Photo: AFP

Life in developing countries in the middle of a pandemic is far from smooth sailing. Relatives of people infected tell stories that spread more fear and panic than reassurance.

In one such instance, an elderly patient in Mumbai was found to have the Covid-19 virus after he got tested for what he thought was a high sugar level. That’s when the agony began, a relative recounted.

“Admission to hospital was a battle and required a lot of pleading,” said the Mumbai-based relative, too afraid to be identified. “After hours of stressful efforts our patient was accommodated and later shifted to another hospital more than 20km away.”

No close relatives or friends are permitted to visit or speak to the Covid-19 patient. The doctor sends a message giving the condition once every 36 hours, leaving relatives on tenterhooks.

The experience of a friend confirms incidents filtering through informal channels and social media. Most of them are routinely brushed away as exaggeration by government officials and ministers.

This comes at a time when the number of Covid-19 positive cases in India has surged to the fourth highest among all countries after the US, Brazil, and Russia. India on last count was closing in on the 300,000-mark with more than 8,500 deaths.

The western state of Maharashtra led with almost 98,000 cases, followed by 39,000 in Tamil Nadu, 35,000 in Delhi and 22,000 in Gujarat. The government of Delhi fears that cases may surge to 550,000 by the end of July.

Delhi’s efforts at treating Covid patients too have been mired in controversy. It has created an app to give a centralized view of hospital bed vacancies but cases abound of patients getting the runaround trying to find a bed. Related to the issue is the tally of cases and the death count.

Critics complain of under-reporting of cases and deaths by the Delhi government, as with other state governments. The southern Tamil Nadu state government has ordered an inquiry after 200 deaths did not make it to the final tally, the Indian Express newspaper reported yesterday.

Treatment of the dead too has come in for criticism. The Supreme Court of India today pulled up state governments of Delhi, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

“Covid-19 patients are treated worse than animals. In one case, a dead body was found in garbage,” the Hindustan Times reported, citing the Supreme Court. Patients are running from pillar to post to get hospital admission even though a large number of beds in government hospitals are lying vacant, it said.

Dying with dignity

“We are more concerned with living than dead. Look at the condition of hospitals. Bodies are there in the wards,” Bar and Bench legal online news site reported, citing the Supreme Court judges.

In a bizarre case last month, Mumbai’s Sion Hospital had to keep several corpses on one side of the hall where patients were being kept. Authorities later described the instance as an aberration which happened because of pressure of work and lack of space.

Former law minister Ashwini Kumar had filed a petition in the Supreme Court concerning the condition of patients and the departed. Dying with dignity is a fundamental right and includes the right to decent last rites, he told the court today.

Meanwhile, the Indian Council of Medical Research said there is no community spread in India, though people are still susceptible. The council gave its conclusion after a survey last month

Areas of higher population density in urban areas are prone to higher risk and India must follow standard precautions such as social distancing, wearing masks and maintaining cough and hand hygiene, it said.