he surge in Covid-19 cases in India will soon create a “humanitarian crisis”, a doctor who has family members in Delhi fears.
The country of nearly 1.4 billion has seen a dramatic spike in infections and deaths in recent weeks, overwhelming the national health system and leaving some dying without access to beds or oxygen.
Dr Meenal Viz, a Luton-based doctor, said that the next few weeks could see people “dying at numbers we probably have never imagined”.
Dr Viz, 28, described Delhi, where several family members including her aunt, uncle and cousin have been infected with Covid-19, as one of the country’s “worst-hit places at the moment”.
“For a good part of the year, I’ve been trying to stay in touch with my family and especially my elderly grandmother, who hasn’t left the house in a year because she’s so terrified of what could potentially come her way.
“Last year we had lots of relatives who’ve been unwell with Covid; one of them had to actually get admitted into hospital, but luckily that was at a time where there wasn’t so much of a shortage of oxygen or ICU beds.
“I knew a year ago that there was going to be a point, whether a variant would come along, or once everyone could travel, that this would actually be quite deadly to the population in terms of the number of ICU beds, number of respirators… it would be catastrophic.”
She added: “One of my biggest worries is that it took some time for our leaders to put India on the red list for travel.
“I’m not sure why exactly that happened, but the worry is that if that comes here, all the hard work that we put in in the last year in lockdown and isolation and getting vaccinated might not be as fruitful as we’d hoped it would be.”
Dr Viz highlighted the need to deliver the vaccine to developing countries and work together to “help communities and societies”.
“I was reading a few days ago that a lot of companies don’t want to sell the patent in developing countries, because of the business side of things, but it’s actually our duty now as doctors and as scientists,” she told PA.
“We’re not just here to take care of patients, we’re here to help communities and societies come back from this really tragic year.
“There’s a damage that can’t be undone. We really need to think of the next few months, and I feel like a lot of leaders have failed to do that.”
Along with several other healthcare workers, Dr Viz works for Team Halo, a UN-backed initiative that has seen doctors and scientists volunteer to make TikTok videos addressing vaccine hesitancy.
Dr Punam Krishan, a Glasgow GP who is also part of the initiative, said: “My heart is breaking for what’s happening in India. It feels frighteningly close to home that anything can change at any time.
“We are so fortunate to have vaccines available.
“The situation in India highlights just how critical the continued take-up is as the vaccine rollout starts to reach younger generations here.”
The surge in India’s Covid-19 cases was described as “beyond heartbreaking” by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Dr Maria van Kerkhove, of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, warned: “This can happen in any country if we let our guard down… The situation can grow if we allow it to and that is why it is important that every single person on the planet knows they have a role to play.”
The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has said the first of nine plane-loads of life-saving kit, including ventilators and oxygen concentrators, would arrive in New Delhi early on Tuesday, with further consignments due to be dispatched later this week.