Senior UP journalist dies of COVID-19 while waiting for help

Vinay, a veteran journalist in UP lost his life to COVID-19 after struggling to get help from hospitals.

Lucknow: Harshit Srivastava was a desperate son while he waited outside the chief medical officer’s (CMO) office in Lucknow’s Lal Bagh area on April 17 doing all that he could to get his father treated.

His 65-year-old father, Vinay Kumar Srivastava ’s oxygen level had dropped to 50, compared to the ‘normal’ mark of 95 and ‘alarming’ 88. Vinay, a veteran journalist, had complained of uneasiness a day before and by night, his oxygen level started to drop and the symptoms suggested COVID.

After trying at three different hospitals to receive some medical help, Harshit reached the CMO hoping to get some response. According to The Print, he waited for hours for a mandatory letter that hospitals demanded for admitting Covid patients, according to a government directive, and finally, disappointed and broken, he returned home to find his father’s oxygen level had dropped to 31. Vinay died at 3.30 pm on 17 April without receiving medical care.

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“We ran from pillar to post, but could not get an oxygen cylinder for him,” Harshit told ThePrint, as he recalled the horror of trying to get medical help for his ailing father. “A relative lent us his own cylinder. I went to get it refilled at midnight. There was a long queue for that too, I had to fight with others to save my father.”

“His sample was collected Saturday morning, but we will get the results (of the RT-PCR test to confirm Covid) only after three days. No hospital is willing to admit him without a Covid positive report, even though he has all the symptoms of the disease,” he fretted.

But at the CMO’s office too, too Harshit was in for a disappointment. As CMO, Sanjay Bhatnagar, rushed in to his office, Harshit pleaded with the security personnel on duty to let him in, but to no avail. He also approached ThePrint for help as a representative of the media.But at the CMO’s office too, too Harshit was in for a disappointment. As CMO, Sanjay Bhatnagar, rushed in to his office, Harshit pleaded with the security personnel on duty to let him in, but to no avail. He also approached ThePrint for help as a representative of the media.

The Print confirmed by visiting several COVID hospitals that in fact, they were not admitting anyone without a reference letter from the CMO, even if they had a Covid positive certificate. This has been the norm since a letter to this effect was issued by the District Magistrate (DM) last year in April, which The Print has accessed.

Since the news of Srivastava’s death went viral, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath directed hospitals to also admit suspected Covid patients. But the directive came too late for Vinay. Harshit said that his father, a journalist with 30 years of experience had always helped people throughout his career and even spent all his earnings helping those in distress during the pandemic. He pointed out that no one came to help his family at such a crucial time.

Harshit desperately reached out to anyone he thought could help save his father, and a glimmer of hope came from Shalabh Mani Tripathi, adviser to CM Yogi Adiyanath. Harshit had tweeted his father’s condition using the journalist’s handle, and Tripathi had replied, seeking details. Later, this reporter too tweeted for help for the Srivastavas, tagging Tripathi, but no help reached Vinay.

None of the Covid hospitals visited by ThePrint Saturday were admitting patients, even those with a Covid-positive certificate, without a reference letter from the CMO. These include St. Joseph, Sahara, Vivekanand, Mayo, Chandan, and Balrampur hospitals.

Officials at the hospitals said they were following orders from the administration. An official at Mayo Hospital said, “We are following this order for the past year. The notification was issued last year. We can not admit any Covid positive patient without the CMO’s permission.”

The notice, accessed by The Print, states: “The decisions related to the medical emergency of Covid 19 patients will be taken by Dr Sanjay Bhatnagar, Chief Medical Officer and the decision will be final.”A senior official in the health department said that the decision was taken to regulate and keep an eye on the Covid management, and to track data from hospitals.

Lucknow’s Sector 12, where the Srivastavas stay, was barricaded owing to the rising number of Covid cases, when ThePrint reached their house. A record single-day rise of 2,61,500 coronavirus infections has taken India’s total tally of COVID-19 cases to 1,47,88,109, while active cases have surpassed the 18-lakh mark, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Sunday.

Since Vinay’s case became viral, the Ajay Singh Bisht (Yogi Adityanath)-led government has directed all private and government hospitals to admit suspected Covid patients too those whose RT-PCR tests are negative, but who are suspected to be Covid positive after X-rays, CT scans and blood reports. It may be noted that the Editor’s Guild of India has asked the Centre to also vaccinate journalists and treat them as frontline workers.

Last year during the pandemic, several ground-level journalists covered the pandemic and even the migrant crisis (when many migrants began walking back home from metro cities), putting their lives on the line.

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