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No refuge for India's rich and middle class from second COVID-19 wave

David Pierson, Parth M.N. and Varsha Torgalkar, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

PUNE, India — Pinakin Tendulkar's gated apartment complex — with its yoga garden and jogging path — insulates middle-class families from the pollution, desperation and chaos that permeate the lives of India's urban poor.

Class distinctions are harshly drawn in this nation, but when a ferocious second wave of COVID-19 swept through this prosperous city of technology parks and research institutes, Tendulkar was as powerless as those less fortunate to stop the disease from breaching his suburban walls.

The 45-year-old business consultant tested positive for COVID-19 the first week of April. So did his wife, their two children and his 72-year-old mother, who had a preexisting autoimmune disease. It took days for Tendulkar to find his mother adequate medical care. She died gasping for air on April 23.

Too sick to move and confined to hospital beds, Tendulkar and his wife, Gauri, missed the funeral.

"I could not be there to take care of her emotionally and physically in her last days," said Tendulkar, whose 388-unit apartment complex has been locked down for three weeks after recording 55 infections and three deaths.

"We were not prepared," he continued. "The overburdened health care system where I had to struggle to find a hospital bed and medicine made everything worse."

 

The latest COVID-19 outbreak's reach is proving devastatingly egalitarian. After ravaging the poor last year, the disease is now taking its toll on the country's middle and upper classes by infecting politicians, cricket players and Bollywood stars such as Deepika Padukone, one of India's most popular actresses.

Modern apartment blocks in Pune and other major cities have emerged as hotbeds of the disease — a sign of the potency and pervasiveness of the new variants that have made India the epicenter of the global pandemic. Experts say India's more affluent citizens are susceptible to this outbreak because many never developed immunity after the first wave.

The virus has "shifted to the middle and upper middle class," said Dr. Shashank Joshi of the COVID task force for Maharashtra, a state encompassing Pune and Mumbai that has been hit the hardest by the second wave. Apartment high-rises, where many Indians with means choose to live, have become "transmission spots" because of their central air conditioning systems and elevators, Joshi added.

The government said Wednesday that a third wave was "inevitable" because of how widespread the outbreak was and the odds of even more new mutations.

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