The streets of Delhi are known for their noise, crowds, and bustle, but Meenal Vis, a UK doctor, says that when her family there listen out of their windows there is “pin-drop silence”.
“It is almost like living in a horror film. People are not sure what will come next,” she said. “The kind of feeling described is a country in a war.”
Vis is among a number of medical professionals in the UK who are deeply worried about relatives in India amid a surge of coronavirus cases.
Concerned British doctors of Indian heritage have set up a page to crowdfund for support, including vital equipment. In interviews, they said they were concerned about conditions in India and were advocating for a strong global response.
Vis said: “The situation in India shows we need to do everything in our power to protect us and those around us. We see what happens if the world is half-vaccinated.”
Vis is part of an UN-backed initiative called Team Halo, in which doctors and scientists volunteer their time to make TikTok videos addressing vaccine hesitancy. “When I speak to my cousins about vaccination, they say it is not readily available,” she said, adding that the pandemic had highlighted health inequality as a global issue.
“We are all connected to some parts of the world somehow and we need to protect everyone,” she said.
Another doctor based in Britain worried about his Indian relatives is Ajay Verma, 42, a consultant gastroenterologist and physician working at Kettering general hospital. “Approximately 40% of the UK workforce at doctor level is from Asian origin, so a lot of doctors here are from that part of the world. I was born in the UK but my parents are from India, so all my mum’s family is in India,” he said.
Verma said his family in India were “very frightened” watching reports of what was going on elsewhere in the country. He said there was a sense of “not knowing what will come next”.
He said being away from loved ones at this time was hard. “There is very little you can from a distance,” he said.
Dr Karan Rangarajan, 30, a surgeon in the NHS, also finds it hard not being able to see his family in India. “Typically I would visit India two or three times a year on leave and I have not been able to travel to India in over 18 months now,” he said.
His family there are afraid of basic tasks such as going shopping. “I generally try not to talk about the situation too much as they hear about it in news and it leads to more anxiety,” he said.
“A lot of people perhaps might have the assumption that what is happening in India is terrible but at least it is in India. But the real tragedy is that the world won’t be safe until everyone is safe … if we let the fires of a pandemic keep burning, those fires will eventually light up in other areas.”
Chintal Patel, a GP, said her uncle was in intensive care last month. “We are lucky as he happened to be unwell three weeks ago … which is mad but he had access to medical care. It was not bad then and he managed to come home and is OK. Had he got unwell now, I am not sure what would have happened. It’s awful,” she said.
“It’s important to remember that it is a global problem and global epidemic, and as such it does need an international global effort to end it. So we need to work together across the world.”