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For This Family, India's COVID-19 Surge Was Personal

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In parts of India, everyone knows someone who has gotten COVID-19.

ANKIT BHUTANI: Our close families, my cousins, friends, office friends. Anyone you talk to, at least one or two of the people in their network or immediate family is affected, and they're home isolated or searching for hospital.

CHANG: Ankit Bhutani's whole family got sick back in March. They live near Delhi. Everyone started to feel better after about one week except his father, who needed to be hospitalized.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

After five days in the ICU, he was sent home. Two weeks later, it flared up again. By then, India was becoming the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

A BHUTANI: The situation was totally different by that time, and hospitals were already flooded. At that point of time, the whole, you know, kind of panic crept in.

CHANG: In just two weeks, India's daily case rate had quadrupled to more than 200,000. There was no ICU space for any more of Ankit's dad, only an ER bed.

GARIMA BHUTANI: He was unconscious. He had bedsores. He was a diabetes patient, and his sugar needed to be monitored. And he needed those medicines.

CORNISH: The family had to call the overwhelmed ER every hour to ask them to check his insulin, and for two days they desperately searched for another hospital with ICU space. They finally found one on April 15. But by then, the infection had taken its toll.

A BHUTANI: The next hospital which took us in - he could live only one day there. And on the 16 he passed on.

CHANG: Pradeep Bhutani was a 71-year-old retired professor and school principal. He's now among the hundreds of thousands who have died of COVID-19 in India. Experts say the true death count is probably far higher than reported. Meanwhile, only 1 in 50 Indians have been fully vaccinated.

G BHUTANI: All of us - right? - have gone through this physical and mental pain in the period of last month. God knows what else is there to come. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Audie Cornish
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Ashish Valentine joined NPR as its second-ever Reflect America fellow and is now a production assistant at All Things Considered. As well as producing the daily show and sometimes reporting stories himself, his job is to help the network's coverage better represent the perspectives of marginalized communities.