It took 59-year-old Somnath Kumar around eight hours to find a bed in a hospital bed in New Delhi on the night of June 5.

Somnath Kumar is employed at the New Delhi Municipal Council and lives in Central Delhi’s Lodhi Colony. Since he had been feeling unwell for a few days and showed symptoms of Covid-19, his family took him to Safdarjung Hospital on the night of June 1, said his son Vipin Kumar, who works as a musician.

But the authorities at Safdarjung Hospital did not get him tested for Covid. They treated him with oxygen and sent him back home on the morning of June 2, said Vipin Kumar.

“They just asked him if he was feeling well and he [my father] said yes and they told him to go home,” Vipin Kumar said.

An arduous hunt

On the night of June 3, his father started to feel breathless again. The family took him to Primus Super Specialty Hospital in Chanakyapuri where he was asked to come back the next morning, said Kumar, who returned to Delhi that night from Mumbai, where he lives.

On June 4, doctors at the hospital tested Somnath Kumar for Covid-19 and admitted him to an isolation ward. On June 5, Vipin Kumar found out that his father had tested positive for the virus. In the evening, Vipin Kumar went to the hospital along with his friend Pradeep Kumar where the hospital authorities claimed that they did not have the facilities to treat Covid-19 and told them to take the patient to another hospital.

But the hunt for a hospital bed would be a long and arduous one.

As cases in Delhi soar, several patients developing symptoms or testing positive for the virus have found themselves struggling to find beds in the city’s hospitals. Relatives of some patients said that officials in both public and private hospitals told them that all their beds were occupied. Many of them claimed that the Delhi government helpline to inform patients about vacant beds was unresponsive, while the bed availability status on the government’s Delhi Corona app did not tally with what hospital authorities told them.

As of June 6, Delhi has recorded 1,320 fresh cases. The total number of cases was 27,654, with 761 deaths.

On June 6, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal alleged that some private hospitals were involved in black-marketing of beds and said that suspected coronavirus patients could not be turned away. In a statement issued on June 5, Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain said that there was no shortage of beds. He claimed that 5,000 beds were vacant.

But for patients like Somnath Kumar, the experience of finding a bed in the city for Covid treatment was a nightmare.

Pradeep Kumar sent an image of the ambulance in which Vipin Kumar's father travelled.

‘Did not find anything safe there’

Vipin Kumar said that on the evening of June 5, he contacted authorities at privately-run Max Saket, Moolchand Medcity, Venkateshwar Hospital and government-run Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. But all four hospitals told him that they did not have beds.

“They said that if we came there then we would have to turn back,” Vipin Kumar said.

He checked the Delhi Corona app, the mobile application the Delhi government launched on June 2 to show the availability of beds and ventilators in public and private hospitals. “It was showing that beds were available but when we called Max Saket and Moolchand they told us they were full,” he said.

He also dialled on the 1031 helpline repeatedly but no one picked up, he said.

Vipin Kumar said he then contacted a person who worked in the Delhi government. This official, whom he did not want identify, told him that Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital had a bed available.

The hospital authorities at Primus Super Specialty Hospital charged Kumar Rs 10,000 for an ambulance to take his father 11 km away to Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Hospital at Delhi Gate at around 2.30 am on June 6.

Doing the paperwork

When they reached the hospital at around 3 am, Vipin Kumar’s father waited inside the ambulance with his oxygen cylinder till hospital staff brought a stretcher to take him into the emergency ward.

Inside the ward, the doctors started the paperwork to have his father admitted. “My father was thirsty and he asked them for water but they said that they did not have water for themselves,” Kumar said.

The hospital staff told Vipin Kumar that his father had to be taken to a ward located 500 m away, in an ambulance. A staff member, who was zipped up in personal protective equipment, asked Vipin Kumar to get his father to sit in the ambulance.

“We were just in a simple mask…but I had to put my father in the ambulance without any PPE kit,” he said. “They were doing this with every patient. He [the hospital staff] did not even know how to use the oxygen cylinder…I kept telling him that it was leaking.”

With his father inside the ambulance, Pradeep Kumar, the hospital staffer and Vipin Kumar stood on the vehicle’s footboard as it rode towards the other ward.

“The ambulance drove on the main road,” Vipin Kumar said. “Hum latak latak ke gaye,” he said. We went there while hanging.

When they reached the other ward at around 5 am, Vipin Kumar helped his father out of the ambulance. The hospital staffer told him to get an extra pair of clothes for this father.

Vipin Kumar repeatedly called the hospital authorities though Saturday and got through only at around 5.30 pm when a staffer told him that his father was being treated with oxygen and that doctors were trying to control bleeding from piles.

The ordeal of getting his father admitted to the hospital had left Vipin Kumar questioning its operations. “I did not find anything safe there, whatever I saw,” he said. “Do they not have the sense that I have worn a thin mask and that we could get it too…we did not have any PPE?”

Update: This article was published at 8 pm on June 7. Somnath Kumar died at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital at around 11.30 am on June 7 and his family was informed in the afternoon that day. The cause of death was respiratory failure, said a relative.