Rickshaws used as ambulances in COVID-stricken India

This auto-rickshaw, zooming down a street in New Dehli, is ferrying a 60-year-old COVID-19 patient and her son to the hospital, as some of India's ubiquitous three-wheeled taxis have been turned into makeshift ambulances to help the country's collapsing healthcare system amid a devastating second wave of the coronavirus.

Actual ambulances are hard to come by in India, which reported a record of more than 412,000 new cases and roughly 4,000 deaths on Thursday, dashing hopes that cases were peaking.

With ambulance fleets unable to keep up with the surging cases, the Delhi government - with the help of a non-profit organization - has mobilized more than a dozen auto-rickshaws, equipped with hand sanitizers and face masks, while oxygen cylinders are provided on an as-needed basis.

AUTO-RICKSHAW AMBULANCE DRIVER RAJ KUMAR: "New Delhi is choking under COVID-19, and I am providing this auto-rickshaw ambulance service to help the public."

Auto-rickshaw driver Raj Kumar, who now dons a full PPE suit, has stepped up to ferry patients to and from Delhi's largest hospital, which is overflowing with COVID-19 patients.

KUMAR: "Obviously, everyone is scared. But if everyone stays home because they are scared, then who is going to go out and help those in need? So, all of us will have to come out of our homes and serve the common people by any means possible, be it with money or power, we all must help each other."

The auto-rickshaw ambulance service, which comes free of cost to those who use it, said it has received requests from other parts of the country to start services there.

The virus has spread from cities to villages even less equipped to cope. Limited public healthcare, including a lack of testing facilities, means the threat is grave in rural areas home to nearly 70% of India's population of 1.3 billion.

Data from India's Health Ministry showed that total infections have passed 21 million as of Thursday and the overall death toll climbed above 230,000, a tally experts believe vastly underestimates the actual total.

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