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'How Did They Die?' Lack of Testing Aggravates Agra's COVID Crisis

A ground report from Bamrauli Katara village in UP’s Agra where 50 lives have been lost since March.

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“We are not going anywhere outside the village and there is no need to wear a mask at home,” a young man sitting on a porch outside a shop in Agra's Bamrauli Katara village in Uttar Pradesh told us as we went around, trying to gauge the COVID situation in the area.

Uday Singh Rana, the newly designated Pradhan of the village told us that since March, approximately 50 people have lost their lives in Bamrauli Katara following ‘flu-like’ symptoms. However, according to government figures, the village has had only four COVID-related deaths.

The Quint spent a day in the village to understand how negligence by the government, lack of health facilities and misinformation around COVID-19 is adding to the misery of people in Bamrauli Katara

COVID or No COVID?

Sukhbir Singh who lost his 41-year-old son Lochan to coronavirus on 24 April told us that his son was turned away by three hospitals before he died.

“We took him to three hospitals and were turned away saying that we need to get a COVID test done. We weren’t sure if he had caught the infection. It was only after he died that a doctor conducted a test and he was diagnosed COVID positive.”
Sukhbir Singh, Father of Lochan Singh

In another instance, 65-year-old Gyan Devi fell ill with COVID like symptoms on 28 April and died on 3 May without having been tested for the disease. This has left her family speculating over the cause of her death.

"She was suffering from fever and then caught a cold. We took her to a doctor in the village who gave her medicines and she recovered," Gyan Devi's brother-in-Law, Mohan Pal told us. He further added that Gyan Devi died later that evening as her health deteriorated suddenly.

“Ten minutes later, she died. We don’t know if it was a heart attack or something else,” Mohan Pal sad.

'Where Are the Health Centres?'

Locals in Agra's Bamrauli Katara said that a lack of healthcare facilities in their village has left them helpless in the face of the COVID crisis. "There is a health centre in our village but it's mostly closed. Doctors rarely show up," says Mohan Pal Singh. "Recently, a vaccination drive was conducted at the centre. However, only 10-15 people were vaccinated and they never showed up after that," he added.

Mohan's brother Mahesh Pal Singh concurs. He told us that in the absence of proper facilities in the village, their family had to go to Batesar, which is 70 Km from Agra to get vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Lochan Singh's nephew Rohit also feels that had there been a proper functional health centre in the village, his uncle could have been saved.

However, according to village Sarpanch Uday Singh Rana, the authorities after being pressured by the media, sprung into action by facilitating frequent visits of health officials and getting the health centre that had remained defunct for six years, reopened.

“Timely action by health authorities could have saved at least 45-50 lives in the village. It was only after we raised the matter in the local media that the system finally woke up.”
Uday Singh Rana, Sarpanch
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Misinformation Is Making Matters Worse

According to a survey conducted by Video Volunteers for The Quint on countering COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation in the rural areas, much like the young man we met outside the shop, several others In Bamrauli Katara believed that wearing masks as a protection against the virus is optional.

"We practice social distancing as we step out of our houses, we don't feel the need to wear masks," said Srikrishna Sharma, an advocate we met, as we went around the village.

When we asked about the awareness level around coronavirus in the village, Rana pointed out that while many had started taking the virus seriously after multiple deaths in the village, others continue to flout lockdown norms.

“We have been working to spread awareness about COVID-19 in the village. However, there are people who still don’t wear masks or practice social distancing.”
Uday Singh Rana, Pradhan, Bamrauli Katara Village

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