13,000 kilometers away, New Jersey resident Radhika Iyengar worries about her 82-year-old mother in Bhopal, India.
Her mother is suffering from COVID-19 but cannot get a hospital bed or an oxygen tank as the pandemic reaches catastrophic levels. Iyengar remains in Millburn, NJ distraught, unable to travel to India with much of the country in lockdown.
“It’s so overwhelming,” Iyengar said, amid sobs, in an interview this week. “Every house has COVIDs, sick people. People are dying in cars, in their homes.”
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As a second wave of coronavirus ravages India, Indian Americans are trying to reach loved ones, organize relief efforts and quietly worry about loved ones caught in what has become the world’s worst epidemic.
“India is currently going through the worst health crisis,” said Sapna Gupta of Short Hills. “Almost everyone is affected by the virus. Many lose their loved ones and many cannot even say goodbye.”
Stories of the dead entangled in bureaucracy and blackouts have become woefully common in India, where deaths on Wednesday officially exceeded 200,000. The true death toll is believed to be much higher.
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The country of nearly 1.4 billion reported 362,757 new confirmed cases on Wednesday, shattering world records. That pushed the country’s total number of infections to more than 17.9 million, just behind U.S. health officials blamed new, more contagious strains of the virus.
Several relatives of Gupta’s immediate and extended family in India have COVID-19. His family and friends are suspicious of social distancing protocols, Gupta said, noting that they wear masks, sanitize their hands regularly and only go out when absolutely essential.
“Many are doctors and have been vaccinated or have already received a dose. Yet this new strain of virus appears to be breaking down the vaccine’s defenses,” Gupta said.
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Iyengar works with his sister in Bhopal, Pooja Iyengar, trying to provide relief to those in need through their nonprofit MSK group.
People who are often infected with the virus need for hospitalization or oxygen, but no reserve Hospital beds and no oxygen cylinders are to be found, Gupta said.
This is “A very frightening and dark situation,” said Gupta, who is from Dehradun in northern India. “And this is for the privileged class in India. I can’t even imagine what low income families have to go through.”
It’s a population density issue, said Dev Karlekar of Somerset, NJ “India owns 18% of the land and almost five times the population of the United States. What happens in this case – too many people on a small patch of land – the infection spreads. ”
Karlekar compared his home country to China in terms of population and density. China’s autocratic government was able to contain the virus better; India, the world’s largest democracy, has had a more complicated road.
“Every state is sovereign, so that makes it more complex,” Karlekar said.
Karlekar’s relatives in India have recovered from COVID-related illnesses. Gupta is in contact with a dozen people across the country who have fallen ill.
“We continue to pray for their recovery and we keep our fingers crossed for those who, by the grace of God, are holding on,” Gupta said.
More than 387,000 Indian-Americans live in Garden State, the third-largest population in the United States after California and Texas, according to 2018 figures from the AAPI Data group.
Contributor: Associated Press.
Mary chao 趙 慶 華 covers the Asian community for NorthJersey.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org