The Uttar Pradesh government insists that none had the deadly infection.
The primary healthcare centre, or PHC, stands right outside the narrow road leading to Kyara, a village 30 km outside Bareilly. On May 12, Dr Saurabh Singh, the chief doctor at the PHC, told Newslaundry that not one person in Kyara has died of Covid since April.
“We’ve conducted 306 tests in Kyara and 10 other villages,” Saurabh said. “Only one person – not a resident of Kyara – tested positive.“
Singh’s statement is symptomatic of the Uttar Pradesh government’s foremost policy during the second wave of the pandemic: denial.
Inside the village, with a population of 2,500 people, residents claim that at least 20 people died after getting Covid-like symptoms since April 25. This was after the panchayat poll took place on April 15. All had trouble breathing and were rushed to hospitals in Bareilly. Only three could get admission. The rest either died on the way or at home.
Sarvesh Singh, the former head of the village, said Dr Saurabh Singh was lying. “Three people died in hospitals in front of me while undergoing treatment for Covid,” he said. “I went to the hospital with them.”
Anil Kumar Singh, 35, was the first Covid casualty in the village. Hailing from Hardoi, Anil had settled in Kyara and had been given election duty for the panchayat poll on April 15. A week before, he had been sent to the city for training. He returned to Kyara on April 13 and fell ill.
Anil tested negative for Covid at the PHC. But when he did not recover by April 20, Sarvesh took him to multiple hospitals in Bareilly. “Anil had remained at home relying on Dr Singh’s negative report,” Sarvesh said.
Two private hospitals in the city told Sarvesh that Anil had Covid but refused admission. “We finally got him a bed at Mission Hospital on April 25,” Sarvesh recalled. “But he succumbed.”
The Covid horror in Kyara began unfolding after Anil’s demise. The worst came on May 5, when six residents lost their lives.
One of them was Ram Sevak Pandey. Pandey, 70, had developed a fever on April 28. His temperature came down thanks to medicines but kept returning.
“On the evening of May 5, he had trouble breathing,” said his son Bholenath Pandey, 40. “It was late at night and we could take him to a Covid hospital in the city only the next morning. But he passed away at midnight. We couldn’t do anything.”
Bholenath believes his father died of Covid, and that the infection was fanned by the crowds that collected during the panchayat poll. “Right after the panchayat election, people started falling ill and dying,” said Pandey. “Six deaths occurred simultaneously. In a village, it matters a lot.”
Gaurav Tomar's house is only 100 metres away from Pandey's. Within three days, the Tomar household was shaken by two deaths: Munni Devi, 60, on May 3 and Shanti Devi, 70, on May 5. Both were Gaurav’s aunts.
Munni Devi fell ill on May 1. When her fever did not subside, Gaurav took her from one Bareilly hospital to another. Unlike Anil Singh, she didn't even get a bed at Mission Hospital. “There were no beds anywhere,” he recalled. “She died in the emergency area. Her body just went cold. The government makes all kinds of empty claims but people can’t even get treatment."
Shanti Devi passed away in her sleep on May 5. She wasn’t eating or talking much, said Gaurav, and had retired to her room to rest. There were no discernible Covid symptoms.
While Dr Singh claims that Kyara has house-to-house health surveys, residents claim that if this actually happened, every household would reveal a Covid case. But the poor access to healthcare means that most die at home, or in hired ambulances.
This is not just the story of Kyara but of many villages in Uttar Pradesh.