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India’s black market lures desperate COVID-19 victims

NEW DELHI – Within the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak, few treasures are more desirable than a can of empty oxygen. Indian hospitals are now in need of metal barrels to store and transport life-saving gas as patients across the country suffocate.

So local charities responded with frustration when one supplier more than doubled the price to nearly $ 200 each. The charity called the police, who discovered what could be one of the country’s deadliest scams, awash with coronavirus-related fraud and black market exploitation.

Police said a supplier, a business called Varsha Engineering that was basically a scrapyard, had painted fire extinguishers and sold them as oxygen tanks. The consequences can be serious: a less durable fire extinguisher can explode if filled with pressurized oxygen.

“This man should be charged with murder,” said Mukesh Khanna, a volunteer for the charity, “playing with life.”

The second coronavirus has disrupted India’s medical system and undermines confidence in Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s ability to treat people and quell disease. It is widely believed that there are thousands more deaths than reported each day. The hospital is full Medicines, vaccines, oxygen and other medical supplies are running out.

Epidemic experts are filling the gap. Medicines, oxygen, and other supplies have an online broker or a silent phone call. In many cases, vendors fall victim to family despair and grief.

“These people, who are cybercriminals, are already there,” said Muktesh Chandor, Special Commander of the Delhi Police. “The moment they were given this opportunity, they activated the operator.”

The top court in New Delhi said this month that “the moral fabric of society has been separated”, citing sales that hunted.

In the past month, New Delhi police have arrested more than 210 people on allegations of cheating, hoarding, criminal conspiracy or fraud related to COVID-related scams. Likewise, police in Uttar Pradesh have arrested 160 people.

“I’ve seen all kinds of predators and all sorts of depravity,” said Vikram Singh, a former police chief in Uttar Pradesh. Years in my career or in my life. ”

Scams and exploits represent another side of the massive online help system that has been emerging to fill the void left by governments. Good doers across the country have flown in to connect those in need with life-saving resources.

Ad hoc systems have a limit, critical devices such as oxygen remain trapped in bottlenecks and people continue to die after the hospital runs out. Vaccine and drug manufacturers fail to keep up Politicians in some places are threatening people who demand public goods.

That empowers the black market with exorbitant prices and smaller products. Many felt that they had no choice.

Rohit Shukla, a graduate student in New Delhi, said that after his grandmother died in late April in a nearby state, an ambulance driver demanded $ 70 for the three-mile ride from the hospital to the hospital. Cremated the body, which was 10 times the normal price when the family arrived.Workers demanded $ 70 for firewood, which would have cost $ 7.

Demand and supply could drive prices, Shukla said, but he was more skeptical.

“Everyone is trying to profit from this outbreak,” he said. “I don’t know what happened to the people.”

An even greater example can be found in the nation’s struggling hospital system. It is believed that infections and deaths are many times higher than authorities say, and in hospitals across India, beds are full and people are dying from lack of oxygen or drugs.

Allegations made by a doctor in Madhya Pradesh have spread rapidly, said Sanjeev Kumrawat’s doctor, Sanjeev Kumrawat, said he was trying to stop local activists of the Indian administration from selling the beds in the government hospitals where he works. We all know it is difficult to get a sleep, ”Dr. Kumarawat said.“ Government resources must be distributed evenly and cannot become the property of one person. ”

Activist Abhay Vishwakarma has disputed the allegations. But said he had asked local authorities to investigate. “I don’t know why the doctors accused me,” he said in an interview.

A rapidly growing market has developed for the contraband plasma, which many doctors in India use to treat COVID-19 cases.Police officers in Noida in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday arrested two men. People they allegedly sold plasma for up to $ 1,000 per unit. According to police, one man pleaded with donor plasma on his own on social media, then sold the plasma through a mediator.

Young cybercriminals try to help by surfing social media sites in search of scammers.

University student Helly Malviya flagged a Twitter post advertising tocilizumab, an anti-inflammatory drug sometimes used to treat Covid-19 patients with pneumonia, which is rare in India. The seller wanted $ 2000 upfront, Malviya flagged the post as a potential scam and received a mess of messages. But they come from people who are desperate for drugs.

“This is the nature of the helplessness that people face today,” she said.

The antiretroviral Remdesivir has been the focus of a number of scams, police in New Delhi recently said they had arrested four people working in a healthcare facility who stripped unused remdesivir bottles from people. Sick who died and sold for about $ 400 per person, before the drug was extremely rare in India, the hospital charged about $ 65.

A Surin family from Lucknow recently paid more than $ 1,400 to a middlemen for remdesivir 6 doses, Lucky Surin, an activity manager, said the family had little choice. Her mother and sister-in-law were seriously ill. Her mother has passed away.

“What are we doing?” Asked Ms. Surin. “If the doctor orders, they have to buy”

Doctor Jawed Khan, the owner of the hospital who prescribes the drug for Surins but is unable to provide it, said the family could provide it for themselves and doctors would check the bottles and labels for accuracy.

Some scammers have tried to avoid such precautionary measures. Police in western Gujarat this month discovered thousands of fake milk bottles in the chest. Tipster took them to a factory where they collected 3,371 bottles of milk filled with glucose, water and salt.

Many other drugs have already been sold and possibly even inserted into the patient’s body, Gujarat police said there was a public health risk of unknown size.

Those who turn to the black market often know that they are gambling.

Anirudh Singh Rathore, a 59-year-old cloth trader in New Delhi, is seeking new options for his ailing wife, Sadhna. He got two bottles at the government set price of $ 70 each. He needed four more.

Through social media, he found that sellers were willing to share four more bottles for about five times the price. First, the two arrived. Upon delivering the two pieces, he noticed that the packaging was different from the first. Vendors explain that they are created by companies.

Rathores were suspicious, but Sadhna’s oxygen levels were down and they were desperate. Mr Rathore said they gave doctors the drug, which injected it without being able to determine if it was real or fake. Sat. Rat Thor died.

Mr Rathore was reported to police and one of the sellers was arrested, he said. But he was punished for any wrongdoing.

“I regret that my wife might have been saved if those injections were traditional,” he said, adding that the police had sent the vial to be examined.

“People are using critical times for their own good,” said Rathor. “This is a moral crisis.”

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