Delhi's popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances


Drivers stand near auto rickshaw ambulances, prepared to transfer people suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and their relatives for free, in New Delhi, India May 5, 2021. Picture taken May 5, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - It's not the most conventional way to get to hospital, but with Delhi running short of ambulances, authorities have turned some of the city's ubiquitous three-wheeled autorickshaws into makeshift ambulances to ferry COVID-19 patients.

Actual ambulances are hard to come by as a devastating surge in cases overwhelms the healthcare system. Families have had to make their own arrangements including paying exorbitant amounts to private ambulance operators to take the sick to hospital.

The Delhi government, in association with a non-profit organization, has kitted out more than a dozen autorickshaws with hand sanitizers and face masks, while oxygen cylinders are provided on a need basis. The service, which began officially on Tuesday, is free.

Autorickshaw driver Raj Kumar has taken patients to the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, Delhi's largest facility, which is overflowing with COVID-19 patients.

"We must all help each other out at this time of need to get out of this situation," said Kumar, who wears a PPE suit. There is a plastic partition between him and the passengers at the back.

"If everyone stays home because they are scared, then who is going to help those in need?"

Mohit Raj, founder and executive director of the Turn Your Concern Into Action foundation, said the response so far had shown the scheme needed more vehicles.

"Now we are getting calls not just of COVID patients but from front-line workers who are unable to find patient conveyance, as well as from people with other ailments," he said.

Raj added he has received requests from other parts of the country to start services there.

(Reporting by Adnan Abidi in Delhi; Writing by Susan Mathew; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Frances Kerry)

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