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‘Absolutely horrific’: Indian community in Canada laments COVID-19 crisis

Ontario resident Chitrakumar Jayakumar is concerned about the COVID-19 situation unfolding back home in India – thousands of kilometres away.

His cousins, uncle and aunts in Kanyakumari district, southern India, are all COVID-19 survivors and his elder brother, who is a dentist, is working on the front lines.

Read more:
‘Some patients die while waiting’: Doctors in India plead for international help

“It’s tough and scary at the moment due to the second wave,” the 35-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., told Global News.

“I must thank God for saving our families during these tough times.”

Others, however, have not been so lucky.

Dr. Alex Patel, a critical care physician in Ontario, is mourning the loss of his uncle, Suryakant Patel, who died of COVID-19 on Tuesday after being on oxygen support at a hospital in Daman, in western India. He was in his late 70s.

“One of the troubling things for me is that he did die alone without any family there, which as an ICU doctor, I’ve seen unfortunately many times and it’s definitely been the hardest part of this,” said Patel.

India is enduring its darkest chapter of the pandemic, with mass funeral pyres, burials and a collapse of the health system compounded by shortages of oxygen, ventilators and hospital beds.

On Wednesday, the country set a new world record for daily infections — 362,757 — and crossed the grim milestone of 200,000 deaths related to COVID-19.

Read more:
India’s deadly COVID-19 surge rooted in crowded super-spreader events

The Indian diaspora in Canada, which has a large South Asian population, is nervously following the crisis as family and friends become affected.

Regina, Sask., resident Shaizinder Kaur’s aunt who had been fully vaccinated and lives on a farm in the Kapurthala district of Punjab, is now struggling with COVID-19.

“We were shocked to know how and where she [caught] COVID from. Their whole family had been fully vaccinated and yet COVID happened to her.”

Click to play video: India’s COVID-19 death toll exceeds 200,000

Meanwhile, her friend’s uncle in Lucknow in northern India died because of a lack of oxygen after being refused admission to the hospital.

“I have not seen COVID been so serious in India until now. It’s scary.”

Neeraj Walia, who lives in Surrey, B.C., has family in northern India. He is worried his elderly mom, who is in her 70s, could risk contracting COVID-19 if she ventures out for the vaccine in Chandigarh.

“They are actually helpless and [they’ve been] locked down [for] the last 10 days,” Walia told Global News.

“It’s very concerning for me right now,” the Indian-Canadian said.

Neeraj Walia pictured here with his family in India

Neeraj Walia pictured here with his family in India

Photo provided by Neeraj Walia

India was initially seen as a success story in weathering the pandemic, but the virus is now racing through its massive population of nearly 1.4 billion, and systems are beginning to collapse.

In addition to oxygen supplies running out, intensive care units are operating at full capacity and nearly all ventilators are in use.

Read more:
‘Perfect storm’: How did India’s COVID-19 crisis get so bad?

Balpreet Singh, legal counsel and spokesperson for the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO), criticized the Indian government for claiming victory too soon.

“It is absolutely horrific. First of all, just seeing so many people dying, suffering, but the government response is also very, very disconcerting.”

The Indian government asked social media platform Twitter to take down dozens of tweets, including some by local lawmakers, that were critical of its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Putting a veil of silence over what’s happening is making it an even more scary situation,” said Singh, who has relatives in India.

He added that India’s response to the crisis, so far, has been “very haphazard” and the government seems to “want to run the course and hope for the best.”

“That’s going to cause a lot more deaths and a lot more pain.”

Click to play video: Ottawa bans flights from India and Pakistan

Help in the time of need

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that Canada is set to donate $10 million to the Indian Red Cross as well as provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators.

Local communities are also trying to lend a hand from afar.

“We donated whatever we could afford through our community channel here in Mississauga,” said Jayakumar.

Click to play video: Albertans concerned for loved ones in India as COVID-19 cases soar

Etobicoke resident Zinnia Abbas Bookwala said she has tried to pitch in for a few personal requests for monetary aid to help patients get the required treatment within the right timeframe.

“The alarming shortage of hospital beds and oxygen tanks is extremely concerning,” said the 32-year-old who hails from Mumbai.

Read more:
India’s COVID-19 crisis: As feds pledge $10M, here’s how Canadians can help

Sabina Vohra-Miller, co-founder of the Asian Health Network, is trying to do her part, finding out what aid is needed most in India by making emergency calls daily with a coalition of doctors.

While welcoming the international support from across the world, WSO’s Singh said it was now up to the Indian government to step up, make use of the assistance and develop a plan.

“You feel very helpless to see things go so bad and being so far away and really practically not being able to do anything,” he said.

— With files from Global News’ Crystal Goomansingh, Sonia Sunger, Miranda Anthistle, The Associated Press and Reuters

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