Floods compound crisis in rural India as country enters ‘dangerous’ Covid phase

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent John Irvine

As India crossed a record milestone of 3 million cases in the past day - rising from 2 million in just over two weeks with the highest number new cases in the world - there is no sign of cases flattening.  

With a record of over 50,000 daily infections, India’s believed to have the worst growth rate in the world

While three of the five worst-hit countries have slowed to 2% or less, India and Brazil are growing at 4% and more in the past two weeks. 

India’s rise of one million new cases in 16 days is also significant as it has seen the fastest rise among the three countries to have hit three million cases.

It took the US a month and Brazil over three weeks.  

In July, it took around three weeks for India to hit two million from one million - but almost five months for the country to hit their first million. 

ITV News has been to film in the rural heartlands of the country, which is now seeing the most dangerous phase and worst spread of this crisis. 

600 million Indians live in rural areas and there are fears for the survival of many. 

After a massive exodus of migrant workers from cities to countryside, now rural heartlands are seeing the worst spread of the pandemic.  

The situation is worsening in India.

Firstly, this is because Bihar, one of the poorest states in the country, has little health infrastructure with only 25% having access to medical care.

And now with floods, it makes access more difficult.   

With reportedly only 0.11 beds & 0.39 doctors available per 1,000 people, the big concern is if Bihar’s beleaguered health infrastructure can keep pace.

If many are struggling to get tested, others who have tested positive are finding it tough to find a bed for treatment and isolation.   

Tackling the crisis while battling severe floods is a tall order for the state's authorities.

This is one of the reasons why the local administration has started a new unique Covid boat ambulance to bring Covid-19 patients to the hospital. 

This boat has all the facilities that are available in a regular ambulance. 

A Covid-19 ambulance.

With over eight million affected in 16 districts of the state, thousands of flood victims have taken shelter on high-rise embankments, national highways and in government schools. 

Vehicular traffic has been disrupted at several places following damage of national and state highways.  

Families with children, animals and belongings are living under tarpaulins on road, without any social distancing or protective equipment.  

ITV News visited Panchob village in Darbhanga district of Northern Bihar, which has been under water for over a month.  

It was not easy to go into the village as it is surrounded by water from all sides and we had to leave our vehicle on the main road around three kilometres away, completing the journey on narrow roads submerged in water on motorbike.

Just before entering the village, we waded in knee-deep water after taking off shoes and folding our trousers to see the village’s submerged clinic.  

While our journey was difficult, this simply gave us an idea of how challenging and brutal the circumstances are here for locals right now. 

Parth Chaudhri, 27, a resident of the village, says the water level has reduced a little bit now but it was even higher a few days ago. Then, it was impossible to get here.

There is no doctor in the facility currently. Coronavirus is already a big problem.  

'We were not prepared for the pandemic at all'

“I feel there is big need for the Bihar government to step up and improve the medical infrastructure in small district, small villages" he said.

"Like we were not prepared for the pandemic at all and I hope government wakes up after this and realises that medical facilities need to be much better in small towns and villages.”  

After initially tottering in Covid testing, India has sped up with the most recent 10 million tests coming in, just two weeks but dominance of antigen testing considered less reliable is giving cause for concern.  

With more than 36 million tests, India has now surpassed Russia, and only the US has conducted more tests in absolute terms.

However, relative to its population, India is still on the lower end of testing. Only Mexico has conducted fewer tests among the ten worst-affected countries.  

As part of a new initiative, the Indian government is running rapid antigen tests on people in rural areas. 

Antigen tests are being organised in rural schools and the community is brought for testing. 

Earlier, people were struggling to get the test done at hospitals and pathology clinic so now the state has started organising health camps for Covid testing in villages.   

Bihar’s top health official Pratay Amrit told ITV News, “Bihar aims to conduct over 100,000 Covid-19 tests daily”.  

The state at present is testing more than 75,000 samples daily.

The RT-PCR facility will soon be introduced at five more medical college hospitals, which would help in raising the daily average by about 2,300.     

Vishwa Bandhu Kumar Singh, a resident of Karihon village of Vaishali district in Northern Bihar has just got tested first time in a camp organised at a school in his village.  

In absence of any medical facility in his village they had to go to 10 kilometres to Mahua for any kind of medical treatment. 

He says most of the people in his village think they are not getting proper treatment even today.