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COVID-19: Indian expats in Montreal join relief efforts for pandemic-battered country


India’s COVID-19 death toll has now surpassed 200,000 as the virus ravages the country.

That has Indian expats across Canada, including in Montreal, spearheading and coordinating medical care and relief efforts in that country. One of them who’s concerned about her family in India is Dr. Nitika Pai, an associate professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Clinical Epidemiology at McGill University.

“My family was in distress,” she told Global News.  “They came down with the virus — the entire family.”

That included her mother, 75-year-old Giria Pant, as well as a brother and his family. But the epidemiologist said she also worries about the broader population.

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

On Wednesday, the Indian health ministry reported 3,293 deaths in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 201,187.  The official tally for the number of cases is almost 18 million, but according to Pai, those figures are way off.

“From the conversations I’ve had with families and physician colleagues, the death toll is 20 times more than what is being reported,” she pointed out.

Ishita Tiwary, a film professor at Concordia University who moved from Delhi two years ago, is also concerned about the situation in the country. She monitors her phone daily for news from her hometown.

“I don’t think there’s any call that goes with my family where my mother and I are not crying,” she noted.

Her family is fine for now, she says, but adds people she knows die nearly every day. Tiwary agrees the situation is desperate.

“There are no beds in Delhi, for instance,” she stressed.  “Nowhere in Delhi is there even one hospital bed available, and even if you can find one, there is no oxygen or ventilators.”

Click to play video: India surpasses 320k COVID cases as some people die waiting for help in overwhelmed hospitals

Both women are trying to help from here.

According to Tiwary, she and her friends work their contacts in India to help desperate patients. They even have a form for patients or their families to make requests.

“So the request is like, ‘I want this,’ this is the patient’s name, this is their age, this is where they are located and contact number,” she explained.

Pai, a founding member of an international team of health experts called India Covid SOS, is helping to coordinate health care and scientific expertise on the ground in India.  She said there are desperate immediate needs

“Oxygen, ventilators, testing needs to be improved,” she noted.

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

Meanwhile, the Canadian government has pledged to send medical supplies and $10 million to the Indian Red Cross.

Still, Indian expatriates in Montreal, like Feroz Mehdi, fear conditions in India will get worse before they improve, and some blame the government there for mismanaging the crisis.

“This whole approach to handling the situation has been so disgusting,” he fumed. “I mean, a couple of weeks ago the prime minister addressed hundreds and tens of  thousands at election rallies.”

Pai agrees that poor leadership as well as religious and other gatherings are responsible for the explosion in cases.  According to her, inoculating enough people against the virus will take at least two years, so in the meantime, India needs as much emergency help as it can get.