Anxiety consumes Indian expats in Vietnam amid Covid tsunami at home

Ashok Kumar, 40, a valet at a parking lot in Saigon's District 1, has become a bundle of nerves as his family in India is up against what is a Covid tsunami.

"I call them every day, telling them to be careful amid this nightmare," he says, adding he cannot help panic at seeing the grim photos of people dying of the novel coronavirus in his country.

The pandemic has killed more than 270,000 people in India.

In just the last 24 hours the country reported 281,860 new infections and 4,092 deaths, taking its tally to 24.96 million cases and 274,411 deaths.

The overall rate of positive cases dipped to 19.8 percent of tests last week from 21.9 percent the previous week, health officials said in a briefing but warned that caution must continue.

In Geneva, the World Health Organization's chief said India was a huge concern, with the second year of the pandemic set to be more deadly than the first.

Many of the more than 5,000 Indians living in Vietnam have grappled with the emotional toll, worrying for their loved ones amid the relentless spread of the disease.

Hanoi businessman Ravi Kumar, 58, calls his sisters in Bangalore, capital city of the state of Karnataka, every day to check on them and remind them to take every precaution.

"People are dying, it is heartbreaking to see my sisters’ families facing risks from afar," he says. His brother-in-law's brother died of Covid last month.

In Saigon, Munish Gupta, head of operations at an international firm, also feels anxious for his family members in Lucknow and New Delhi, where more than 21,000 people have died from the novel coronavirus.

But it is good that his family members know all about protecting themselves from the virus, he says.

Munish Gupta (R) and his wife (L) and daughter in HCMC, May, 2021. Photo courtesy of Munish Gupta.

Munish Gupta (R) and his wife (L) and daughter in HCMC, May, 2021. Photo courtesy of Munish Gupta.

Many Indian expats are angry at the way their government and local authorities have dealt with the pandemic, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had declared in January that India was one of the countries to successfully control the coronavirus.

Kumar says: "Then things become a nightmare; it was too early to say such a thing."

Many of his Indian friends in Vietnam share his anger at what has happened, he says.

Gupta, who regularly posts news about the pandemic in India on a Facebook group he administers, says all Indians living in Vietnam feel the pandemic "could have been managed better and differently" in their country.

But dealing with a pandemic in a country of 1.36 billion people is a real challenge, he points out.

Helping hands

Indian expats have been extending a helping hand to their country.

Kumar has coordinated with other Indians in Vietnam to buy and ship oxygen concentrators to various states in India.

The latest outbreak has seen oxygen requirements at Indian hospitals rise 10-fold, according to Abhinav Mathur, founder of the Million Sparks Foundation, which imports the devices to donate to healthcare facilities.

People carry oxygen cylinders after refilling them in a factory, amidst the spread of the Covid-19 in Ahmedabad, India, April 25, 2021. Photo by Reuters/Amit Dave.

People carry oxygen cylinders after refilling them in a factory, amidst the spread of the Covid-19 in Ahmedabad, India, April 25, 2021. Photo by Reuters/Amit Dave.

As medical facilities run short of oxygen tanks and beds, oxygen concentrators are becoming the second line of defense for those having breathing difficulties while recuperating at home.

"Seeing people struggle with breathing is difficult, so I am trying my best with my fellow Indians here to help them," Kumar says.

In the last few weeks many Indians in Vietnam have coordinated with their government and NGOs to ship materials home.

Radhakrishnan M. B., 63, a businessman in Saigon, has sent money, masks and hand sanitizers.

Emergency medical aid is pouring into India from around the world as the government seeks to fend off criticism about the slow pace of dispatching supplies to hospitals and states in desperate need.

The receipt of oxygen generators, concentrators and cylinders, drugs and other medical equipment marks the first time India has accepted international humanitarian aid since the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

Indians in Vietnam are also relieved that the Covid situation is well managed in Vietnam, making both their life and livelihood safe.

"I think I might die if I were in India now... I am lucky to be in Vietnam at the moment, it is safer than India," Ashok Kumar, who has been stranded in Ho Chi Minh City since last year, says.

Srimanta Kumar Jena, 35, general manager of a company in Hanoi, says, "Vietnam has handled Covid-19 so well that it is a great example for others."

He often tells his family in Odisha state how Vietnam has set an example for how to control a pandemic.

"Wearing masks, no gatherings, washing hands, and using sanitizers... I have told them a lot."

Ashok Kumar says: "From a distance, I pray for my family's safety every single day."

His phone is always on and charged just in case he gets a call from his family.

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