Manoj has been scouring markets and social media for four doses of Remdesivir and an oxygen concentrator for his mother. “The government hospital does not pick my call”, says Manoj, desperate to find the medicine as the town ran out of supplies. “I can’t waste time in bureaucratic hurdles and hope I get some respite”.
Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath On Sunday, asked officials to seize the property of individuals who spread “rumours” and propaganda on social media and invoke NSA. Earlier this week, he ordered to take action under the National Security Act and the Gangsters Act against “anti-social elements” involved in “blackmarketing” of medicine, spreading rumours and trying to spoil the atmosphere.
But for many like Manoj, a resident of Kasganj near Aligarh, government supplies are unreachable when the medicines are much needed. “The government should have ensured adequate supply before making such a decision,” he added.
Uttar Pradesh government is accused of under-reporting the crisis and backlogging test to prevent ‘defaming’ the nation.
“The government is not doing anything themselves, and their actions and orders are frightening the only people who were doing anything into inaction. The amount of lives being lost by this cover-up, by police actions, and by government inaction is immeasurable,” says Salim Usman, a volunteer from Lucknow.
The State police have taken a cue from the government and launched a campaign against people accused of hoarding and blackmarketing medicine and oxygen cylinders. On Sunday police reported it had so far arrested 42 persons and recovered 239 oxygen cylinders and 688 vials of Remdesivir.
“The district administration has threatened to revoke my license and worse, file NSA against me on the charges of black marketing oxygen,” a private oxygen distributer in Old Aligarh told Maktoob on the condition of anonymity,
“How am I black marketing? I’m simply working day and night, asking my employees to overtime because there is a shortage of oxygen and it can save lives. The prices are higher because of the lack of supply and huge demand, I’m not here to earn a profit”.
The distributor told Maktoob that due to the constant forwarding of his number and agency’s name on social media that the district administration was able to trace him down.
The injections such as Remdesivir and Toccilzumab are supposed to only be available through government hospitals. In Aligarh, the only outlet is the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital at Ramghat Road. However, even with the prescription and Aadhar card, attendants of critical patients are turned away by medical staff.
“They say the stock for the day has been distributed”says families of patients outside the hospital. Many patients are critical and may not make it the next day.
Earlier this week, A private hospital in Lucknow issued a notice asking patient bystanders to shift their fellows due to a shortage of oxygen supply. “After repeated requests to the UP CM/ Central government, we are not able to get enough oxygen supply. Hence we are requesting family members of those patients who are on oxygen support, please take their patients to higher centre for further management,” read the notice.
Many hospitals followed Mayo medical Centre but the government criticised the call for help as rumours. Oxygen supply is also critically low in hospitals, despite the claims of UP Chief Minister that they have an adequate supply. Hospitals have constantly been posting about lack of oxygen and ICU beds. Hundreds of emergency pleas are circulated hourly on social media for patients in the state.
Uttar Pradesh is expected to see a jump in coronavirus caseload in mid-May, with the daily count likely to reach 1.9 lakh, according to the projections by Niti Aayog. The government has been belittling the crisis by not recording death and threatening testing labs to not conduct the Covid test. From April 19 to April 24, Kanpur Nagar district officially recorded 66 COVID-19 deaths, while 406 cremations took place at Bhairoghat and 56 in Bhagwatghat alone. The disparities are called out by reporters in other districts as well.
“The suppliers of Remdesivir have stopped giving us any stock, which was minuscule, to begin with. The public has been told that they can get it from government hospitals, but they aren’t finding it there. My sources told me people can get arrested for selling it, so I firmly refuse anyone who asks for it now,” A drug store owner told Maktoob.
Social workers on the ground say that the government orders have raised hostility among volunteers who are engaged with helping the poor and patients in dire need of Covid supplies.