A Reporter Under Siege Writes from India's Charnel House

 

Three things emerge from Jeffrey Gettleman's report from New Delhi - fear, desperation and helplessness.

Crematories are so full of bodies, it’s as if a war just happened. Fires burn around the clock. Many places are holding mass cremations, dozens at a time, and at night, in certain areas of New Delhi, the sky glows.

Sickness and death are everywhere.

...I’m sitting in my apartment waiting to catch the disease. That’s what it feels like right now in New Delhi with the world’s worst coronavirus crisis advancing around us. It is out there, I am in here, and I feel like it’s only a matter of time before I, too, get sick.

...New Delhi, India’s sprawling capital of 20 million, is suffering a calamitous surge. A few days ago, the positivity rate hit a staggering 36 percent — meaning more than one out of three people tested were infected. A month ago, it was less than 3 percent.

The infections have spread so fast that hospitals have been completely swamped. People are turned away by the thousands. Medicine is running out. So is lifesaving oxygen. The sick have been left stranded in interminable lines at hospital gates or at home, literally gasping for air.

...What we had been fearing during last year’s first wave, and which never really materialized, is now happening in front of our eyes: a breakdown, a collapse, a realization that so many people will die.

As a foreign correspondent for nearly 20 years, I’ve covered combat zones, been kidnapped in Iraq and been thrown in jail in more than a few places.

This is unsettling in a different way. There’s no way of knowing if my two kids, wife or I will be among those who get a mild case and then bounce back to good health, or if we will get really sick. And if we do get really sick, where will we go? ICUs are full. Gates to many hospitals have been closed.

...It didn’t have to be like this.

India was doing well up until a few weeks ago, at least on the surface. It locked down, absorbed the first wave, then opened up. It maintained a low death rate (at least by official statistics). By winter, life in many respects had returned to something near normal.

I was out reporting in January and February, driving through towns in central India. No one — and I mean no one, including police officers — was wearing a mask. It was like the country had said to itself, while the second wave was looming: Don’t worry, we got this.

Few people feel that way now.



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