Sabu’s brother-in-law said that he was denied an ambulance allegedly because his name didn’t figure in his list of COVID-19 patients with the Corona Control Cell.

PPE wearing people carrying a man on a sack Photo by George Poikayil/Twitter
Coronavirus COVID-19 Saturday, May 15, 2021 - 11:41

A 57-year-old man in Kerala, suspected to have COVID-19, was transported to a hospital in an open pickup truck, after his family was unable to get an ambulance. A video of the incident which started circulating on Friday shows Xavier Vettamthadam alias Sabu being carried on a sack held in four corners by four people in PPE into the pickup truck. Sabu succumbed on reaching the hospital.

Sabu was a native of the Kooramkundu in Kinanur-Karinthalam gram panchayat, which does not have an ambulance. His family reportedly called the Coronavirus Help Desk for an ambulance. However, they were allegedly not provided with one because Sabu did not figure on the list of COVID-19 patients the authorities had. The story was first reported by George Poikayil of The New Indian Express.   

Sabu’s wife Annie Xavier was found to have contracted the coronavirus on May 3. According to Annie’s brother-in-law Saji George, health officials told her and her daughter that they need not get tested and should stay in quarantine. However, on May 13, Sabu started having difficulty breathing and was unable to talk.

Saji said he had been trying to get an ambulance from 3 pm. He was allegedly told to call the Corona Control Cell when he called 108, which is the number for the ambulance. However, when Saji called the cell, the executive on the line allegedly refused to assign an ambulance saying that Sabu was not on the list of COVID-19 patients. Saji was asked to contact the Health Inspector for the panchayat.

TNIE contacted the official in charge of providing ambulances. The official said that the cell had received a “vague” call, asking for an ambulance before disconnecting, and that the caller did not say who he was or why he needed the ambulance. The official also said that the caller asked if the ambulance was available for patients who did not have COVID-19. To this, the person who attended the call at the cell said that ambulances are only assignable for COVID-19 patients or their primary contacts, after which the caller hung up, the official in charge of 108 ambulance distribution said.

Saji said that the executive was lying. He added that he had told the executive that Annie had COVID-19, and even referred to an incident in Punnapra where two volunteers had taken a COVID-19 patient on a motorcycle, asking him to avoid such a circumstance from arising. According to Saji, an ambulance parked in front of a primary health centre (PHC) that was 3 km away in Balal panchayat could have been arranged to help Sabu. However, an official at the Vellarikundu PHC said that that was a 108 ambulance which they have no control over and only the Corona Control Cell can designate it.

According to Silvi Joseph, the Congress member of the Kooramkundu ward, there is no motorable road leading up to Sabu’s house, which is why an ambulance could not have gone up. She also said that she tried to call several ambulances but they were busy. It was then that she said she asked four COVID-19 volunteers to go to the Vellarikundu PHC, wear PPE and take Sabu to the hospital. Silvi denied however that Sabu had to be carried on a sack, as his wife had given a new mattress. She acknowledged that Sabu had to be taken in the neighbour’s pickup truck as there was no ambulance available.

When Sabu reached the Taluk Hospital, his antigen test turned out negative. This time, though an ambulance was arranged to take him to the District Hospital in Kanhangad 10 km away, Sabu did not survive the journey.