In India, death rates are climbing as the country suffers from a new COVID-19 variant and lack of resources. Mustang News’s Sophie Lincoln spoke with Cal Poly students who are living in India about their experiences as lockdowns remain in place.

Architecture junior Parkhi Agarwal visited her grandparents in New Delhi over spring break. The COVID-19 situation seemed to be looking up, and she was hopeful for the future. She was introduced to older members of her extended family on the trip. Exactly a month later she received a call about the relatives she’d just met: they had passed away. 

Currently, a deadly second wave of COVID-19 is sweeping through South Asia. This hit major cities such as New Delhi and Mumbai first and is now spreading through the rest of the country.

On May 20, India reported 276,110 new cases of COVID-19 according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. The total number of cases now stands at 25,772,440. 

India is responsible for more than half of the world’s daily COVID-19 cases, at about 400,000 per day. 

Some blame the new Indian variant, B.1.617, others point to B.1.1.7, which affected Britain and the United States. 

With the overwhelming cases, Indian hospitals are facing an oxygen and vaccine shortage, forced to turn away patients, not having enough beds for all those ill. 

The country also reported 3,874 virus-related fatalities, with the total death toll now at 287,122. A total of 186.9 million vaccine doses have been administered since India began its vaccination program on January 16. 

Parkhi Agarwal

Agarwal currently lives in Bangladore, India and said the initial lockdown in March 2020 felt like a much needed break in everyone’s chaotic, hectic lives but she said she now feels “trapped” in her home. 

“Even though I feel trapped, I also feel grateful for the privilege of being home,” she said. “That gratefulness also comes with a sense of helplessness.”

Agarwal wants to help in this situation, but questions what the cost is. 

“If I do go out and volunteer how much am I willing to risk myself to exposure?” she said. “How much of a risk am I willing to put my family in?”

When Agarwal found out about her extended families’ passing, she said no one would have seen this coming.

“The situation now versus what it was a month ago, it’s just two completely different worlds.”

The presence of the situation’s severity is constant for Agarwal.

“Even when I’m talking to you right now I just heard like three ambulances on the street outside,” she said. 

Asmita Sharma

Computer science junior Asmita Sharma also lives in New Delhi, India. 

The gravity of the situation has taken a toll on Sharma and the first outbreak pales in comparison to the pandemic’s currency intensity and severity, she said.

“You actually see people you know dying, instead of just reading numbers,” Sharma said.

When Sharma found out four of her neighboring houses were positive for COVID-19, she confined herself within her home, not even stepping out onto her balcony.

Sharma lives in a combined household with extended family, including her uncle and aunt, who are both doctors. 

“So many people are dying every single day in front of [my uncle and aunt] each day,” she said. “It’s really heartbreaking, and I know all this because they tell me the horror stories of COVID[-19] and how bad it’s getting.”

She said their phones ring 24/7, calls from relatives or anyone who has received their contact in hopes for help. 

Harshit Mittal

Harshit Mittal currently lives in Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, India. He said his state is one of the most impacted in this current COVID-19 surge. 

“There was a point, like, a week or two ago where I would hear about someone I’ve personally met passing away every couple of days,” he said. 

About a month ago, he began hearing news of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The entire face of the country changed within two weeks,” he said. 

He fell sick not long ago but because of the scarcity of medical help available, he was unable to receive a COVID-19 test, nor medical treatment. He has since recovered, but does not know what he was ill with. 

The COVID-19 crisis has caused a financial constraint for Mittal and his family. They own a business which has been closed for about a month and a half due to the country’s current state. He is fearful that he will not be able to afford his last year at Cal Poly. 

Arnav Banthia

Computer science sophomore Arnav Banthia is an Indian international student, who moved to San Luis Obispo at the end of March.

He said he feels concern and frustration in his current situation.  

“I’m all the way here and everyone I know [in India] is going through so much and I can’t be with them,” he said. 

Prior to leaving India, he said life was almost back to normal, many places allowing almost 100% capacity. He believes this, along with the population density, political elections and individuals downplaying the virus contributed to its current state. 

Ameya Dalal

Architecture junior Ameya Dalal is an Indian international student who is currently living in San Luis Obispo. 

Effective May 4, the White House announced restrictions on India-US travel, where noncitizens’ travel to the United States is currently suspended. The exception for international students with student visas is that they may enter the United State no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies. 

He was planning on returning to India for the summer, but was forced to adapt. 

“For other international students like me from India [this situation] has thrown a wrench in your plans but you work around it,” he said. 

In looking to the future, Dalal wants to see global support and an end to misinformation. 

“Any sort of false information being spread about India not doing anything, the government is lax and sleeping is not true,” he said. “Hopefully we’re able to minimize, if  not eliminate, all sorts of false information being spread and be informed as people not on the ground in India right now.”

Dalal said this crisis needs to be handled with patience and dedication. 

“There’s a way out, but it’s patience, it’s up to [getting people vaccinated],” he said. “It’s going to be a slow process and it will take time.” 

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