Battling Covid, and government denial, in rural India

Uttar Pradesh state authorities insist there are no shortages but the virus is clearly wreaking havoc as it spreads beyond big cities into the towns and villages

People in India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh are fighting not just a raging pandemic but also a prickly Hindu nationalist local government that many say is in denial.

The state authorities, headed by a monk touted by some as a successor to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, insist there are no shortages and take a dim view of those “spreading fear”.

Brijesh Pandey spends hours every day in the hot sun jostling with others for medical oxygen for his brother-in-law, who is now at home struggling to breathe.

“We could only get a rapid antigen test done which is not accepted by hospitals for admission,” Panday told AFP as he waited outside a oxygen cylinder filling station in Moradabad district.

The 42-year-old said the family spent an astronomical 40,000 rupees ($545) to arrange an empty oxygen cylinder.

Police are on guard at the filling station, allowing only those with doctor’ prescriptions to get oxygen. The aim, authorities say, is to stop black marketeers.

– ‘Genocide’ –

But complaining can land ordinary people in trouble under chief minister Yogi Adityanath, 48.

At least two people and a hospital have been charged by police for “spreading rumours and fear”. One was arrested for appealing on Twitter for oxygen.

In the state capital Lucknow, the official death toll for April is 830. But two crematoriums say they handled more than 1,900 bodies while 500 others were buried in the Muslim graveyard.

Vivek Awasthi, founder of the non-profit Uttar Pradesh Voluntary Health Association, told AFP that villagers were sometimes treating the virus like a common cold and not taking proper precautions to stop it spreading.

Ramchandra Nirmal, 49, who works as a security guard in Mumbai said that people back in his village in Uttar Pradesh could travel to small nearby clinics.

Many have blamed the spread on migrant workers returning from cities and on pilgrims who attended the enormous — and largely mask-free — recent Hindu festival Kumbh Mela.

Pavan Singh said his 42-year-old brother, a science teacher, contracted the virus and died after working as one of thousands of election officials.

“He was admitted to three hospitals in a span of a week because some of them were running out of medicines and oxygen,” Singh told AFP.

Singh’s anger was shared by others gathered at the same makeshift crematorium on the banks of the Gagan river to perform last rites.

“These burning pyres prove that there is a crisis and the government is just trying to cover-up.”

Source: Battling Covid, and government denial, in rural India (

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