A doctor who distributes food, an NGO that helps the poor cremate their dead, and a handyman who repairs oxygen cylinders are some of the ways citizens have mobilised to ease the nation's suffering.
Dr Harsh Awasi, 31, after treating his patients drives some four miles away from his private clinic, Awasthi's Homoeopathic Clinic, to Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, where all the 700 beds designated to Covid-19 patients are occupied. He doesn't provide any care to the patients, but distributes food packets to the attendants accompanying them.
The hospital is situated in the Indian capital, New Delhi, and sees a huge rush of patients everyday. The country is currently going through a pernicious second wave, a spike so steep the increase is nearly vertical on a graph.
There are many instances where entire families are infected, which has led to an immense burden on an already overwhelmed healthcare system that has endured over 21 million cases and over 230,000 deaths.
Dr Awasi visits multiple hospitals a day and then heads back to his clinic in Laxmi Nagar, where he treats his patients until the evening. While it's a journey that makes him more susceptible to the virus, he says all he can do is take precautions - but will not stop going out to serve others.
“People are losing money getting medicines that are being sold at double the price and in these conditions I feel providing needy people with something is God’s work,” he said.
Experts say the healthcare system is close to collapse, as many hospitals are running out of intensive care beds, medicines, and most vitally – oxygen supplies. Workers at crematoriums and graveyards are working around the clock and many are sleeping on the premises. There is no respite, as the bodies keep piling up.
It has also sparked concern over the actual number of Covid-19 deaths. Many news reports are highlighting the discrepancies in the official figures and the actual death toll.
Jitender Singh Shunty, 58, is the supervisor of a crematorium situated in Old Seemapuri in New Delhi. He hasn't seen his family in days and keeps food and clothes in his vehicle parked outside the crematorium.
Shunty says the virus has not spared any sections of society with the poor being the worst affected, who don't have money to transport their dead in a vehicle or an ambulance for the last rites.
To tackle this, Shunty’s NGO Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal, which he founded in the late1990s, goes to impoverished households to collect their dead.
“I myself go to houses and pick and wrap the victims in cloth. It’s so disheartening to cremate bodies who are half my age,” he said.
As the country struggles with the daily rise of infections, some experts TRT World spoke to shared the opinion that the crisis is an “outcome of poor leadership, unwise diplomacy and shortsighted policies,” reflected in the decisions to allow the Kumbh Mela festival to proceed in March, the Indian Premier League cricket tournament, and election campaigns in various states.
According to the website of the Ministry of External Affairs, India exported nearly 66.3 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to 95 countries; a move which has now resulted in the country encouraging imports to meet its own demand.
Leadership has been roundly criticised over social media, which authorities have gone out of their way to try to censor. Despite a year between the two waves, the government could neither foresee a crisis nor was it prepared to face the challenges of an outbreak as severe as the current one.
The surge in infections has forced families, friends and even hospitals to make desperate pleas for help on social media. The need for oxygen, hospital beds, medicines and plasma are flooding Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and private messaging platforms like WhatsApp.
Many citizens are organising efforts for direct aid and are relentlessly working on generating leads to provide medicines and oxygen supplies that can help save lives.
One of them is Gurmukh Singh Lucky, 37, who worked with an air-conditioning business until the pandemic hit. He has made his cell number public and helps repair any issues related to oxygen cylinders, something he learnt with the help of relatives who are doctors.
Singh has now joined an ‘oxygen langar’ facility that provides free oxygen to patients at a gurdwara - a Sikh temple - based in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh.
“I can’t see people suffering like this. The way hospitals have closed their doors and patients are now roaming on the streets makes me numb,” he said.
“Everyone out there is like my own - my own people, like my mother and father. I have to fight the virus and help them out and save their lives.”