New Delhi: When over the counter paracetamols did not help abate Delhi-based Ankur Tiwari’s low-grade fever, sore throat and breathlessness, he tried calling up the COVID-19 helplines to check if he needed to get tested for the fatal virus, but to no avail.
“The numbers were either busy or did not connect at all. I waited for over half an hour on a single call, but it never connected,” Tiwari told PTI.
The two helpline numbers that the 46-year-old teacher had tried calling were 011-22307145 (Delhi govt) and 011-23978046 (central govt), both of which he took down from the audio message that plays on the phone before making a call.
“Eventually, I had to go to a local doctor, who has assured me that I have nothing more than seasonal flu,” he said.
Tiwari is among the many people who have raised concerns, especially in the last two weeks when the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the country started spiking, about the allegedly non-functional helpline numbers issued by the central and state governments.
As on Thursday, at least 1,965 people in the country are infected with coronavirus while 50 have died due to the disease.
Over a month back, the central and the state governments set up 24X7 helplines to answer people’s queries on novel coronavirus, including when, how and where one should get tested in case they have symptoms like coughing, fever, shortness of breath, and vomiting.
City-based journalist Chinki Sinha, who wanted to inform authorities about a positive COVID-19 case in her neighbourhood of Defence Colony, also called the Delhi helpline and received a response similar as Tiwari.
The helpline was busy for over 30 minutes.
“I was calling about the positive case in the neighbourhood and how the guards of the landlords in the colony were sitting without masks. I wanted to ask them to sanitise the area,” she said.
Sinha finally tweeted to chief minister Arvind Kejriwal about the problem, to which she hasn’t received a response yet.
Many also turned to Twitter to register their complaints on the issue.
Azhar Ullah from Delhi, who wanted to report two suspected COVID-19 cases, also pointed out that neither the state not the central helpline was functional.
“#coronavirus emergency no. are not working 01122307145, 01123978046, 9599507173 i am trying to connect two suspect are their i am from delhi (sic), he wrote.
Another user Akash Deep shared a screenshot from his phone showing all his outgoing calls to the Delhi helpline number 011-22307145 as “not connected”.
“Sir I called more then 100 times on helpline no. No response no help I am feeling viral if I want to check my self what I can do. What kind of services you provide. #coronavirus,” he wrote.
Twitter user Abhimanyu also shared screenshots where six calls made to the health ministry’s 24*7 control room 011 23978046 “didn’t connect”.
According to the ‘Delhi Health Bulletin COVID-19’ released daily by the state government, its coronavirus help desk received and responded to an average of 287 calls per day between March 19-25.
Incidentally, most complaints about the Delhi government helpline involve a single number 011-22307145, which is the one announced on the audio message before making a phone call, and the list of state helplines that is being circulated on social media.
The average number of calls too increased by over three times after the government activated 10 lines in the Directorate General of Health Services state headquarter control room on March 26.
The average number of calls received and responded to were 823 between March 26-29.
The 10 Delhi helpline numbers are –22391014, 22301028, 22302441, 22307133, 22304568, 22307745, 22307135, 22307145, 22300012, 22300036.
Several attempts to reach out to the Union health ministry about the helpline went unanswered.
People in different states have also complained about not being able to get through helpline numbers issued by both state and central authorities.
In Mumbai, Allisandra D’Abreo tried calling the Maharashtra helpline 020-26127394, after her 49-year-old mother showed persistent flu-like symptoms including fever, body pain, congestion, coughing and chest pain, but the line was constantly busy .
“I wanted to know if I should get my mother tested for coronavirus, or if consulting any other doctor was fine. I called up the state helpline thrice in an hour, but every time it was engaged,” she told PTI.
D’Abreo added she also tried calling the numbers that are announced in the message before a call, but both were “busy”. Eventually, she had to take her mother to a nearby clinic.
Tagging Haryana health minister Anil Vij, Twitter user Ravi Wadhwa said he had been trying to call the state helpline for two days but found it was either busy or out of coverage area.
“@anilvijminister sir haryana corona virus helpline number is not working either it shows not in coverage area or line is engage . I have been trying to connect call for two days .please do the needful, Wadhawa wrote.
In multiple tweets, Himanshu Mahajan from Uttar Pradesh said the state helpline was not working
“Help line #coronavirus numbers not working. Where should people approach,” he wrote.