Twitter becomes a platform of hope amid the desperation of the COVID crisis in India

Warnings about the lack of COVISHIELD, a coronavirus vaccine (COVID-19) manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, are seen outside a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mumbai, India, on April 20, 2021. REUTERS / Francis Mascarenhas

After spending hours unsuccessfully calling government help lines in search of a hospital bed for a seriously ill COVID-19 patient, Indian lawyer Jeevika Shiv posted an SOS request on Twitter.

“Serious patient # covid19 in #Delhi with oxygen level 62 needs immediate hospital bed”, Shiv, part of a 350-member COVID-19 volunteer medical support group, said on Twitter at the end of last week.

Help came quickly. The patient found a bed and soon began to show signs of recovery.

“Finally, it was online help that worked as people responded with information,” said Shiv.

India is reporting more than 250,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day in its worst phase of the pandemic. Hospitals are refusing patients and supplies of oxygen and medication are running out.

In response, people are bypassing conventional lines of communication and turning to Twitter for collective help for oxygen cylinders, hospital beds and other requirements.

People in need and those with information or resources share phone numbers of volunteers, suppliers who have oxygen cylinders or medications and details of which medical facilities can receive patients using hashtags like #COVIDSOS.

Some users have offered to help with homemade meals for COVID patients quarantine at home and to meet a range of other needs, such as providing pet food.

“Twitter is having to do what the government helpline numbers are supposed to do,” wrote Twitter user Karanbir Singh.

“We are on our own, folks.”

Twitter is not as widely used in India as Facebook or WhatsApp, but it is proving to be a more valuable tool for getting requests for help in the coronavirus crisis, largely because of its “re-tweet” function, which can quickly amplify a message through users’ contact networks.

A Google spreadsheet prepared by a group of volunteers that gathers information about hospital beds, oxygen supplies, blood plasma and ambulance help lines in various states is being quickly shared on Twitter and has dozens of pages.

Bengaluru-based software developer Umang Galaiya, 25, created a website that allows users to select the city name and requirements – be it oxygen or remdesivir – and direct them to Twitter results using its advanced search feature.

His website received more than 110,000 visits.

“All the other tweets in my feed are about COVID,” said Galaiya.

“I am happy that people are finding this useful.”

But for some, aid comes too late.

On Monday, journalist Sweta Dash posted an appeal for help on Twitter to find a fan bed for a pregnant woman in New Delhi. His message spread quickly through more than 100 retweets and a Delhi government official soon suggested a hospital.

But a few hours later, Dash posted another message.

“The patient died”.

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