How Twitter became India’s COVID E.R.

Jaded by the health care system, Indians are taking to social media, offering and requesting help to save lives. But this is no feel-good human story.

Imaan Sheikh

April 21, 2021

How Twitter became India’s COVID E.R.
A health worker walks through at a makeshift COVID-19 quarantine facility set up at a banquet hall in New Delhi, India, on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 (Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“Urgently require 6 doses of remdesivir for my mother who is fighting Covid in a hospital in Pune! Pls pls help. It’s urgent,” tweeted documentary filmmaker Richa Sanwal on April 16. Her contact number followed. (Remdesivir is an antiviral drug that has shown promising results in quickening recovery from COVID-19.) She only has a few hundred followers, but at the time of reporting this story, Twitter users have retweeted Sanwal’s post over 4,000 times. Sanwal’s cry for help is just one in a sea of desperate pleas Indian residents are tweeting out. Looking up the word “help” in combination with “Remdesivir,” “hospital bed,” “plasma,” “oxygen cylinder,” or “ventilator” on Twitter reveal thousands of posts by those with critically ill family members, trying every last resort to see a loved one live another day. 

The country has seen a steep surge in COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks, triggered by the emergence of a “double mutant” variant of the virus that may be responsible for increased deaths and consequent crowding at cremation grounds and graveyards. (This past week, Varanasi’s Harishchandra Ghat cremated at 40 to 60 bodies a day.) India’s seven-day average of new cases has surged over six-fold since March 20. On April 18, India saw 273,802 new reported cases of the virus — the highest single-day number since the pandemic began. Mortality rates have gone from an average of 164 deaths a day to a whopping 1,227 deaths per day. As of April 17, 88% of intensive care unit (ICU) beds in Delhi were occupied.