Fear of COVID-19 stalks Delhi slum dwellers with no safety net

NEW DELHI, April 28 (Reuters) - Kneeling on the ground to knead dough in the tiny shanty he shares with six other people in a New Delhi slum, Udayshankar Kumar knows that he and everyone around him are in grave danger from the COVID-19 outbreak ripping through the city.

In Kirti Nagar, a ramshackle settlement by a railway track where Kumar lives, social distancing is not an option for residents who share single rooms with large families, navigate narrow alleyways and use the same toilets as their neighbours.

"God forbid, if any one of us gets infected then they say he or she can infect 460 people in 24 hours," said Kumar, repeatedly pulling his face mask back up as it slipped while he talked.

Access to healthcare is difficult at the best of times for slum dwellers, but with a shortage of hospital beds and medical oxygen contributing to India's catastrophic second wave of COVID-19 cases, their situation is more precarious than ever.

"If something happens to us, then there are no beds available at the hospitals," he said. "The rich will make their arrangements, but where will we go? What will be our condition?"

India's official COVID-19 death toll, which many believe underestimates the true toll, surged past 200,000 on Wednesday. More than 300,000 people have tested positive each day for the past week, overwhelming health facilities and crematoriums. read more

The capital New Delhi is one of the worst-affected areas, with every third person tested for the virus found to be infected and a new death being recorded every four minutes on average.

A Kirti Nagar resident who gave her name as Suman said she had stopped watching the news out of fear.

"I am unable to watch the content they are showing in the news," she said, speaking through a vivid pink scarf that she was using as a face covering.

"So much pandemic, so many deaths, long queues outside crematoriums. I am so scared that I feel I will die after watching the news."

Densely packed slums like Kirti Nagar sprawl across the capital's suburbs and are home to tens of thousands of impoverished families for whom securing drinking water is a daily struggle and hygienic living conditions a pipedream.

"We are all living at the mercy of God, and if something happens to us, no one is there to look after us," said Kirti Nagar resident Ram Niwas Chandrawanshi.

Reporting by Reuters TV, writing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar, editing by Estelle Shirbon

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