'It's the world's problem': City's Indian community tells of Covid horror
- Credit: Danielle Booden
As the coronavirus death toll in India passes a "terrifying" milestone of 200,000, community leaders in Norwich are "crossing their fingers" the crisis can be resolved.
The country is battling a brutal second wave of Covid-19, with families reportedly travelling from hospital to hospital in search of oxygen.
On April 27, 362,902 cases were recorded. On March 27, the daily recorded figure stood at just 62,631.
Vijay Jetani, a former president at the Norfolk and Norwich Indian Society (NANIS) and owner of much-loved Namaste Village restaurant, is from a village of 10,000 people near Bhavnagar City in Gujarat.
He said for the last few weeks at least one person from the village was dying every day because of the virus.
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"This is a very difficult situation for us living here because most of my family still live in India.
"Every time I call them the news becomes more terrifying. Either someone is isolating, someone has symptoms, someone is trying to get into a hospital.
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"I haven't personally lost any relatives, and my mother, father and uncle all recovered from Covid when they had it. But I know many who haven't.
"I've heard of a lot of people getting it without coming into contact with someone who tested positive. It's as if it's getting into the air in public spaces - which is a horrible thought.
"I'm trying to give my family all the knowledge I can from what we've learned from the Covid waves here in the UK, such as strict sanitising and avoiding all social contact, but it's a totally different culture.
"Families, and especially husbands and wives, are so close in India.
"If you were to tell someone they had to isolate from their partner they couldn't do it - they'd rather die together."
Mr Jetani said one of the problems was that a lot of the social distancing or lifestyle changes needed to check the virus were not "strongly enforced".
"Here in the UK, the government has been much more forceful in its application of the rules than in India, where they're more 'suggestions'," he said.
"There's also a lot of rumours about vaccines which is putting people off taking them - including my dad at first. I managed to talk him round in the end."
Mr Jetani said he believed the circumstances had deteriorated so rapidly because most of India's vaccine supply has been exported abroad rather than distributed domestically. Less than 10pc of India's population of 1.4bn have received their jabs.
"For a while India was doing great and it was Brazil and Europe in trouble, so most of their vaccine supplies were exported here from the Serum Institute of India.
"But if we don't tackle this now, and return the favour to India, the chance of new variants developing and spreading abroad will grow.
"This is the world's problem."
Still, Mr Jetani said he was "hopeful" the situation would be brought under control and that he was "crossing his fingers".
His brother, who works in oxygen cylinder manufacturing, said they were being made "24/7" to support hospital patients.
"I think this whole situation is nature's way of telling us we need to be kinder to it. and change our collective consciousness towards the environment", Mr Jetani said.
Diki Raja, current president of the NANIS and a retired radiographer, said the group's 150 members held a two hour prayer session yesterday alongside the Hindu community for the people of India who have lost their lives.
Ms Raja, who is originally from Kenya, said: "The Indian community in Norfolk has been fortunate so far. Very few of us have suffered close losses as a result of the pandemic.
"But I'm still checking up on everyone, seeing if anyone needs help or even just someone to talk to.
"We could try to fundraise and send some money to Indian hospitals, but it would be a drop in the ocean.
"Instead, we're doing our best to support our Indian community here in Norfolk. It's a horribly stressful and desperate situation for them."