Doctors threatened with denouncing the oxygen crisis in India
A Covid-19 outbreak in a stronghold of support for the Indian prime minister has faced cover-ups and intimidation as workers in his party scramble to limit the political damage caused by the crisis in local elections, say the doctors. Doctors say test results are rigged, medical staff gagged and death toll deliberately underestimated as coronavirus begins to tear apart Uttar Pradesh, a man-ruled state expected to be Prime Minister’s successor Minister Narendra Modi. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath accused of using authoritarian tactics to suppress reporting of scale of medical shortages as pandemic takes hold among the state’s 240 million people . Uttar Pradesh, home to over 200 million people, also has strong symbolic significance for the ruling Bharatiya Janata party as it contains some of Hinduism’s holiest sites including Varanasi and Ayodhya. An estimated 30 million people voted on Thursday to elect local village chiefs from among 520,000 candidates in Uttar Pradesh, with fears that crowds at polling stations would worsen what has become the state epidemic in the fastest growing in India. According to an Indian government think tank, Uttar Pradesh is also expected to overtake Maharashtra, the state that is home to Mumbai, for new cases daily. Uttar Pradesh, along with Bihar and Rajasthan, saw the strongest weekly growth in new cases. A doctor, who works in the state capital, Lucknow, estimated that only one in 20 deaths from Covid were officially recorded in the state. “Certainly the deaths are underestimated,” the doctor told The Telegraph. “It’s enormous. It is deliberate in such a way as to show fewer deaths and to protect the image of the government. “You go anywhere, any locality, people cremate or bury their dead. Covid deaths occurring at home are not counted at all.” Testing labs had also been urged to sit on positive results to reduce official figures, he alleged. “Obviously, there is a fear among the doctors,” he said. “The government will fire doctors if they talk about the crisis. And Yogi is just trying to minimize the havoc in Uttar Pradesh.” Earlier this week, Mr Adityanath sparked panic after saying police could arrest people and hospitals reporting a shortage of medical oxygen or beds. State police also this week prosecuted a man who used Twitter to plead for oxygen from an elderly relative. Shashank Yadav was charged for making misleading statements, even though his call simply said, “Need an oxygen cylinder, ASAP.” Mr Adityanath insisted there is no shortage of oxygen or beds in the state, but the state will enter a full lockdown from Friday. Another state doctor said the government was trying to “hide the truth.” hospitals, it will regret its comments that there is no shortage of oxygen, ”said an officer at a private hospital in Lucknow, who wished to keep anonymity. “He wants hospitals [to] hide the truth. He is least concerned about people dying in hospitals and at home, ”he said. Reports of crematoriums submerged by bodies are increasingly at odds with the state’s official death toll. On Tuesday this week, the local government reported 39 deaths in Lucknow, despite a single crematorium in the city’s Bhainsakund district reporting 60 Covid-19 cremations. Bodies are reportedly lying for days in overwhelmed hospitals and there are long lines outside crematoriums in the main state cities of Varanasi, Allahabad and Kanpur. In Agra, the same state, authorities were forced to deny accusations that they took an oxygen cylinder from an 85-year-old woman, who later died, to give to a well-connected patient. Cities like Delhi and Mumbai have so far borne the brunt of the pandemic in India, but the spread in more rural Uttar Pradesh would make it more difficult to count deaths, said Bhramar Mukherjee, professor of public health and epidemiology at the University of Michigan. “It is now spreading to rural areas and this is where India has the weakest death reporting infrastructure. In large metropolitan areas people die in hospitals, but in rural areas they die outside hospitals and the number of such deaths is much higher in a place like Uttar Pradesh. “The state is extremely important to the ruling BJP in local elections.” It is one of the most demographically and politically heavy states, with enormous parliamentary representation. Anyone who gains political weight in Uttar Pradesh has a lot to say in central government and that is why it is so important to the BJP and other political parties, ”said Avinash Paliwal, senior lecturer in international relations at SOAS University in London. Nationwide, India reported nearly 380,000 new infections on Thursday and some 3,645 new deaths. As the pressure on Mr. Modi increased, Arundhati Roy, the winning author of Man-Booker, said his government had failed. “Perhaps ‘failed’ is an incorrect word, because what we are witnessing is not criminal negligence, but an outright crime against humanity,” she wrote in The Guardian. Meanwhile, after a backlash against vaccine shortages, the managing director of Serum India’s Dose Manufacturing Institute has been placed under security protection. In the city of Nagpur, Maharashtra, an 85-year-old man died at his home after leaving his hospital bed for a 40-year-old man with young children. “I am 85 years old, I have seen life, but if this woman’s husband dies the children will be orphans. So it is my duty to save him,” said Narayan Dabhalkar, before dying.