Panic gripped India’s swine flu epicentre, Pune, on Wednesday, within two days of an infected 14-year-old school student, Rida Shaikh, dying.
Nearly 1,000 people landed up at Naidu Hospital, one of two public hospitals designated to treat swine flu cases.
“It seems like the entire city, including healthy men and women, have rushed here,” said Aeleykutti Thomas, 61, a retired nurse, who brought her granddaughter.
Chemists ran out of surgical masks, which offer one of the best forms of protection. Of India’s 598 swine flu cases, 113 have originated in Pune.
On a normal day, Naidu Hospital gets about 200 people asking to be screened. It was clearly not equipped to deal with the deluge.
As the day progressed, tempers frayed, even leading to a scuffle. The police intervened and broke it up, while the hospital opened another counter.
The authorities finally issued instructions that only those who had been in close contact with swine-flu-positive people, or those who had gone abroad and had symptoms would be tested and quarantined. The rest were sent home.
The hospital also sent some people to Aundh General Hospital, which was both inconveniently located at the city’s outskirts and also less prepared.
“I told them I had been referred by Naidu Hospital but no one understood English,” said a 22-year-old student from Manipur who had gone there.