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No Network, Distant ICUs: Tale of a COVID-Hit Uttarakhand Village

Jaikot has no Indian mobile network and is located at least 300 kilometres away from the closest ICU in Haldwani. 

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Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya
Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma

“The nearest hospital equipped with an ICU is over 250 kilometres away in Haldwani,” laments COVID-19-positive patient Ramesh Baral, as he sits on the threshold of his hilltop residence, neatly tucked in the higher reaches of Uttarakhand.

Jaikot, the village Baral calls home, is at least two hours away from the nearest Community Health Centre in Dharchula town, and is connected to the highway by a dirt road that is not motorable during monsoons.

“An ambulance can only come to a certain point that is at least 20 kilometres from here. Beyond that, one will have to make his own arrangements. If a patient requires an ICU bed, it is over 250 kilometres away in Haldwani. If one needs oxygen, he has to go to Dharchula, although it has limited healthcare facilities.”
Ramesh Baral

Marking the remoteness of the village – located at an altitude of over 2,000 metres – is a dust road leading to it, which takes nearly one hour to negotiate on an uphill journey. The steep road, resembling a zig-zag racing circuit, cannot be negotiated by an ambulance.

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A Costly Denial

While Baral was honest about his COVID-19 infection, homemaker Harshita did not want to admit that she had tested positive for the virus.

While the village head confirmed that both Harshita and her two-year-old daughter Vanshika had tested positive, the latter only admitted to her daughter having tested positive.

“No, no, I don’t have fever, only my daughter has fever. We are normal otherwise. I had got a test for COVID-19. My result is normal.”
Harshita

Not only did 26-year-old Harshita deny her infection, she even questioned if her daughter had COVID-19.

“As far as I know, these aren't the symptoms of coronavirus. If she had COVID, she would not be standing like this. She has mild symptoms. They are saying she has some symptoms,” she said.

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No Indian Mobile Network

While the village has three confirmed cases of COVID-19, Bikki Mehta, the son of Jaikot’s village chief, says that as of 3 June, the Himalayan settlement had over 30 people complaining of cough and fever.

Although a testing camp was conducted by health officials on the same day, no testing had taken place in the village when almost every house had been attacked by fever a couple of weeks back.

However, the biggest problem the village faces is the absence of mobile network connectivity, says Mehta.

“Even after so many years of independence, we continue using Nepali network. We are not getting COVID-19 reports (RT-PCR) because here we don't have Indian network and they are not registering Nepali numbers for tests. There's no network here,” he says.

Jaikot has recorded four confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the second wave and no fever-related deaths have taken place in the village so far. While three people tested positive through rapid antigen tests conducted at the village on 3 June, reports of RT-PCR tests conducted the same day have still not reached Jaikot at the time of publishing this story.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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