The messages started arriving less than a month ago and have grown more desperate and frequent as the days have progressed. WhatsApp pleas from people I have never met being forwarded to me, asking about the availability of hospital beds, or anguished requests for money so that they can treat loved ones. And most heartbreaking of all, despairing calls for oxygen so that they can breathe.

Coronavirus is suffocating India, and the devastating pictures and statistics tell their own grim tale of a nation facing what is being called the world’s worst outbreak. As its politicians and medical experts try to tackle the situation, those of us with deep bonds to the country find ourselves as helpless witnesses thousands of miles away, watching the tragedy unfold.

I was born in Punjab and came to Britain as a five-year-old but, despite having spent the bulk of my life here and calling it home, ties have always remained strong to relatives and friends back in India, cultivated by frequent trips over the years.

The past few mornings have been spent on the phone to them, discussing their fears and how they are coping with what has been described as a national emergency. My social media channels have been buzzing with the latest news and the agonising calls for help, and as each day goes by, my heart bleeds for my “mother country”.

It is difficult put into words the human cost of the coronavirus crisis engulfing India and even tougher to hear it sitting in my west London home on the end of a phone. A friend sobbed last week as he told me how he had to queue outside a New Delhi hospital in searing heat with about 300 other people to buy two injections of remdesivir, the drug being used in India to treat coronavirus patients, for his mother.

By the time he got to the front, he was told that he could only buy one, due to a shortage of supplies. Soon after, he was warned by hospital officials that they had enough oxygen to last only until the weekend. He did not know if his mother would survive until Monday.

Fortunately, most of those that I am closely connected to in India can afford medical treatment. But spare a thought for the millions who cannot and are at the mercy of a public health system that was close to breaking point even before the pandemic struck. Add to that the misery of losing jobs, without any furlough schemes in place, combined with rising economic uncertainty, and you have all the ingredients for a disaster.

The blame game among the country’s politicians has already started, with fingers being pointed at Narendra Modi’s government. Sadly, that debate looks set to escalate, along with the coronavirus death rate. But for those of us in Britain, and countless other countries that house the Indian diaspora, all we can do is watch, listen and cry.

Dippy Chaudhary was until recently senior features editor at BBC London

This content first appear on the guardian

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