India's COVID-19 crisis escalates as Newcastle woman reflects on the horror, devastation and deaths facing family and friends

Tough times: Relatives stand next to the burning funeral pyres of those who died due to COVID-19 at Ghazipur cremation ground in New Delhi. Picture: Getty Images
Tough times: Relatives stand next to the burning funeral pyres of those who died due to COVID-19 at Ghazipur cremation ground in New Delhi. Picture: Getty Images

THE escalating COVID-19 crisis in India has been devastating to watch unfold from afar for Indian diaspora like NSW Hunter Valley woman Meraj Khan.

Official figures from India on Tuesday put the new daily case numbers at 323,000 and almost 3000 deaths, but experts fear those figures are just the tip of the iceberg, with people waiting a week to access a COVID-19 test.

Ms Khan, of Newcastle, has heard stories of mass cremation sites in parts of India and has seen grim footage of decaying bodies piling up.

The daily updates she receives from friends and family in India are of a health system overwhelmed, and people dying in stretchers as they wait outside clinics and medical centres for help.

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Ms Khan said a school friend - a mother-of-two - had died of COVID-19 due to a critical shortage of oxygen in the country.

"It is really horrifying," she said. "My friend presented to hospital, but they just didn't have enough oxygen to help her."

Ms Khan said a friend's seven-year-old nephew was rushed to hospital because his oxygen levels were "dangerously low".

"She said her two small children are struggling as well, and her brother's wife, her dad - they are all precarious," she said. "It's bad. That's what she has told me."

Devastated: Meraj Khan, of the Humanism Project, has been horrified by what is going on in India as COVID-19 tears through the country and overwhelms hospitals and testing centres. Picture: Simone De Peak

Devastated: Meraj Khan, of the Humanism Project, has been horrified by what is going on in India as COVID-19 tears through the country and overwhelms hospitals and testing centres. Picture: Simone De Peak

It comes as the Australian government moved to suspend passenger flights to and from India until at least May 15 on Tuesday.

Australia will provide India with an initial package of ventilators, surgical masks, goggles, face shields, surgical gowns, gloves and oxygen supplies in a bid to help the country get the COVID crisis under control.

Ms Khan feared the situation would get worse before it got better. The surge in cases in India was predicted to peak mid-May.

India's government had been running election rallies in four states of the country, and large religious gatherings had also been permitted to proceed, contributing to the spread of the virus. But voices of dissent in the country had been "put behind bars" on anti-terrorism laws.

Ms Khan, who also works at the Newcastle Herald, is part of a group called The Humanism Project.

The group, which seeks to mobilise Australia's Indian diaspora to rally for social justice causes, has begun advocating for people in India and working with various organisations to provide the supplies and support needed.

Ms Khan said what was happening in India was really a global issue, as the longer the virus ran rampant in India, the more chance it had to mutate and world-wide repercussions.

One of Ms Khan's collaborators on the project, Dr Haroon Kasim, said his colleagues in India who have been unable to give patients the medical attention and treatment they require have found the experience "profoundly distressing".

"There is a sense of helplessness," Dr Kasim said.

Anyone who wants to support their efforts can contact The Humanism Project via Facebook.

This story Mass cremations and overwhelmed hospitals: India's big COVID battle first appeared on Newcastle Herald.