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Last doctor standing: Indian hospital on the brink

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Armed guards at the gate of a hospital in India's northeast now have a new mission: to protect the last doctor still standing, after other doctors have contracted the coronavirus.

The guards are there to protect him from relatives.

One of the biggest challenges Dr Kumar Gaurav didn't expect was how to stop family of COVID-19 patients, barging into wards to see their loved ones, often wearing just the flimsiest of masks for protection.

"They just want to visit their patients, even when our guards, our doctors are making them understand, they simply refused. They just barge into our ICUs," [said Dr Kumar].

It wasn't supposed to be like this for Kumar - he moved back to Bhagalpur, his hometown, for a quieter life with his family.

He was working as a medical professor and junior consultant psychiatrist, but when other doctors tested positive for the virus, and some refused to work, the responsibility fell on his shoulders.

He's now the top official of one of just four COVID-19 hospitals selected to serve 100 million people.

Dr Kumar worries about his constant exposure to the patients, but still feels compelled to keep working.

"If I stand in front of a COVID positive patient for two minutes and if I suppose I see 20 patients (in a day), then I have exposure for 40 minutes in front of COVID positive patients."

Kumar says that the healthcare system in Bhagalpur is on the brink of collapse, like the rest of Bihar state.

Bihar has confirmed some 87,000 cases of infection.

But that's relatively small compared to other states, and local officials believe that with a low rate of testing, the number may be worse.

The state government's response to the outbreak has sparked litigation.

A case set to go to India's Supreme Court this week cites a "lack of hospital beds," and " unsanitary quarantine centers" and argues the federal government needs to step in.

Spokesmen for India's federal government and the Bihar government didn't respond to detailed requests for comment.

An exhausted Dr Kumar promises junior doctors in one meeting that he will try to convince the government that more resourses are needed.

He later admits that will be a difficult task.

And in the end, he has to make daily compromises: "Sometimes when they understand that their relatives are not going to make it, it's a desperate measure by them to see their relatives, to say goodbye, to see their patient's face (for the) last time."

As infections slow in many other countries, India is still reporting more than 50,000 cases per day.

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