Tibetan residents of India are being caught in rising numbers of COVID-19 infections as the country struggles with a second wave of the pandemic that has seen cases surge since March, sources say.
India has now seen more than 300,000 new cases of infection each day for at least two weeks, with more than 350,000 testing positive in one recent day, and at least 220,000 deaths officially recorded, news sources say. Hospitals meanwhile report shortages of beds and oxygen supplies.
In Dharamsala, seat of Tibet’s exile government the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), a shortage of vaccines at Delek Hospital—the largest Tibetan hospital in India—has now put an end to a program aimed at inoculating Tibetans age 18 and over, one doctor said.
“For now, we don’t have any vaccines in Delek Hospital, but we have a few options we are working on,” Dr. Tenzin Tsundue told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“One idea is for us to collaborate with larger hospitals, as the amount of vaccines we would need would be too small for us to order directly from the supplier.”
Nearly 140 Tibetans living in Dharamsala have tested positive for COVID-19 since last week, and those numbers are rapidly climbing as the virus continues to spread through the community, Tsundue said.
“I urge Tibetans to get vaccinated in government hospitals now if they get the chance,” Tsundue said, adding, “Don’t wait for the Delek Hospital to get more vaccines. This is a matter of necessity now, not of choice.”
Tibetans living in Dehradun, capital of northern India’s state of Uttarakhand, have also been hard hit, with 83 Buddhist monks testing positive at the local Sakya monastery, sources at the monastery said.
The monastery had already been under lockdown for a year, but staff had often gone out to purchase supplies in a nearby town.
“We are isolating our monks, and no one is in serious condition yet, but a few of them have shown low oxygen levels, and so we have had them admitted to the Dekyiling Tibetan Hospital,” one source at the monastery said.
“The 83 monks who were infected are among the 225 Tibetans in Dehradun who have tested positive for COVID-19 during this second wave of the pandemic in India,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Tibetans lead efforts to help
Young Tibetans living in cities like Delhi and Bengaluru are meanwhile leading efforts to help Tibetans infected with the virus, with the Delhi-based Tibetan Cancer Society raising funds to buy oxygen cylinders and staffing call centers for volunteers.
In Mundgod, a town in southern India’s Karnataka state and the site of one of India’s largest Tibetan settlements, 34 COVID-19 patients—most of them still in stable condition—are being treated in DTR Hospital, a unit of the CTA’s Department of Health run since December by eight nurses and without a permanent doctor on staff.
Dhondup Tashi, a doctor from another hospital, visits the facility once a week, sources said.
The Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala has appealed to Tibetans around the world to donate to COVID-19 relief campaigns in India. Two quarantine centers set up by the Tibetan administration have meanwhile been converted to treatment centers to deal with the rising numbers of cases.
“We are now seeing a rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, and because of this we have prepared necessary precautions like oxygen cylinders at our COVID care centers,” said CTA COVID-19 task force worker Tsering Tsamchoe.
“At present, we have only a few patients on oxygen support, though,” Tsamchoe said.
A total of 2,584 Tibetans have tested positive so far for the COVID-19-causing SARS-CoV-2 virus in India, Nepal, and Bhutan, with 59 Tibetan deaths reported, and a total of 15,457 Tibetans have now been vaccinated, according to CTA figures.