'Too much to bear': Dubai resident tells of anguish as six relatives die in India's Covid-19 crisis

Juhi Khan says family searched in vain for oxygen and hospital beds

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A distraught Dubai resident said she had "no tears left" following the deaths of six relatives during India's deepening Covid-19 crisis.

Juhi Khan, who helps with several charity initiatives in the UAE, feels helpless after being unable to provide medical assistance to her father-in-law, two uncles, an aunt and two cousins who died due to coronavirus this month.

Along with other relatives, she spent days and nights trying to reach doctors, hospital officials and medical supply companies in Delhi, Meerut and Lucknow in northern India.

"Six deaths in two weeks is too much to bear. We have spent days searching for beds, oxygen, ventilators," the 48-year-old told The National.

Whatever I used to read in newspapers and see on TV, it's happening with my family

“How can I explain my grief? All of them were so close. I have cried so much, I really don’t have any tears left.”

Ms Khan lost her father-in-law on April 13, two days after he and her mother-in-law were admitted to a hospital in New Delhi that ran out of ventilators.

Heartrending scenes in India playing out on television screens of people fighting to breathe outside overcrowded hospitals became her family's reality.

“The hospital asked us to arrange for a ventilator and we searched everywhere. While my family were searching, he was gone,” she said.

“Whatever I used to read in newspapers and see on TV, it’s happening with my family.”

The swiftness with which the disease took the lives of relatives, aged between 34 to 81, has shaken them.

Family's desperate bid to help loved ones back home

Dubai resident Juhi Khan tells of the trials her family in India faced with health systems swamped and hundreds of thousands deaths due to Covid-19. Courtesy: Juhi Khan

Dubai resident Juhi Khan and her family have struggled to reach oxygen cylinders and ventilators to relatives who lost their lives to Covid-19 in India. Courtesy: Juhi Khan
Dubai resident Juhi Khan told of her anguish at losing six relatives to Covid-19 as India battles a deadly second wave of infections. Courtesy: Juhi Khan

Her mother-in-law has recovered but they soon learnt about the death of her father’s brother in Meerut, also in north India.

“He was like a father to me. He too was suffering from coronavirus and did not even make it to the hospital because beds were not available,” she said.

In subsequent days, she has mourned the deaths of an aunt, two cousins and another uncle.

Her nephew frantically called on Monday asking all relatives for assistance in finding a hospital bed for his father in Delhi.

Ms Khan comes from a family of government civil servants but still it was impossible to locate a hospital not filled to capacity. Her uncle died the same day.

“In desperation I went on Facebook begging people to find a bed for my uncle but it was too late,” she said.

“I’m more than sad. I’m very angry at the system and the facilities. My family is influential and they tried everything to find beds. We thought we have resources and contacts but what can you do when there are just no empty beds? And what will a poor person do?”

Ms Khan’s family has been praying at home in Dubai and watching the last rites online of loved ones in India.

“I don’t have any enthusiasm for life left because my loved ones have gone,” she said.

“My uncles were the backbone of my family. People are telling us be strong, be positive. How to be strong when you have lost so many?”

The federal government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and state governments have been criticised for complacency, not gearing up for a second wave with ministers spreading the message the country had beaten the virus.

Hospitals at breaking point

Political leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, held crowded election rallies and a religious Kumbh Mela was permitted.

Hospitals are now at breaking point with photographs going viral of patients sharing oxygen masks.

More than 300,000 daily cases have been recorded in India for several days with the number of deaths crossing 200,000.

The federal government has approved plans for more than 500 oxygen plants to boost supply and oxygen tankers are being carried aboard trains to hospitals.

Several nations such as the US, UK and the UAE have sent ventilators, oxygen concentrator devices and containers.

But the nightmare has not ended for Ms Khan because she has more than 30 relatives with Covid-19 in India.

Fearing the spread of the Indian Covid-19 variant, several EU countries, Kuwait and the UAE have shut down travel from India.

This has doubled the anguish of Indians overseas worried about relatives back home.

Her mother, a cancer survivor, recently underwent radiation treatment and is being cared for by her brother. She hopes to bring them to the UAE once the flight ban is lifted.

“I have never felt more helpless in my life that I’m today. It’s not just me, millions in India are suffering because they have lost people they love,” Ms Khan said.

“My mom’s immunity level is zero. I worry she will catch corona and that will be like a time bomb. I’m praying to Allah to have mercy.

"I’m praying for some miracle so my mother and brother can reach here and be with me. I don’t want to hear any more sad news.”