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Watching a tragedy unfold

A mass cremation of victims who died of COVID-19 is seen at a crematorium ground in New Delhi on April 22, 2021. Picture taken with a drone.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

In the beginning of March, the COVID-19 health bulletin sent every evening by the Delhi government started showing an upward trend from a few hundred cases daily. On WhatsApp, a fellow reporter predicted, “And just like that we’ll reach 1,000”. That happened in no time. The cases and deaths have just been soaring since.

Suddenly, even before reporters realised it, we were outside hospitals and cremation grounds covering what is unarguably one of the worst horror stories of recent times. For those of us watching this tragedy unfold every day, the distressing visuals will possibly never leave our minds.

 

Covering stories of COVID-19 victims and their families for the last two weeks has meant being a witness to their desperation, pleas for help, and sorrow. I saw a son holding his mother as she lay on his shoulder and gasped for breath outside a hospital. They were looking for a bed. Unable to get one, she died minutes later. A 65-year-old man risked his life and stood in queue to get an oxygen cylinder refilled for his infected son-in-law who was being looked after by his daughter back home. An eight-year-old lost his father to COVID-19 and stood inside the cremation ground, unable to make sense of what had happened. His COVID-19-positive mother, wearing PPE, could not even offer to hug him. I have seen families wait an entire day to cremate their loved ones because cremation grounds have run out of space for the day. Private and government hospitals have been sending SOS messages on media groups and posting on Twitter asking for oxygen supply. It’s been nothing but reporting pure mayhem.

Journalists are perceived to have “connections”, so many of us are also flooded with calls and messages from friends, extended family, and even strangers asking for help in arranging hospital beds or oxygen cylinders. While we’ve been able to help some, we have only been able to tweet the requests of some others, which yielded no results. Social media has been truly helpful during these times, connecting people who need help with those who can provide help.

Amid this havoc, there’s the dreaded feeling of getting infected, for reporters are out on the field every day. Despite each of us wearing two masks, a head cover, a face shield and gloves, and despite our drive to share people’s stories, the scare of contracting the virus and endangering the lives of family members remains at the back of our minds. Working in a profession which runs solely on passion is one thing, but the guilt of possibly infecting elderly parents cannot be ignored.

Also read | Park turned into cremation ground in Delhi

The days are spent shuttling between hospitals and cremation grounds, battling guilt and fear. The nights are spent reflecting on the immense pain and misery surrounding us. Then there is helplessness. The toll this takes on our mental health reflects in the painful adjectives we write in our news reports, the unusually high number of calls we make to close ones and sometimes, the tears that flow freely without any trigger.


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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 10:46:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/watching-a-tragedy-unfold/article34442472.ece

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