News World Asia Big business, social media companies step up to help Indians amid a record surge in coronavirus cases

Big business, social media companies step up to help Indians amid a record surge in coronavirus cases

India is battling a record surge in coronavirus infections, as people try to access essential medical supplies. Photo: AP
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Big businesses and social media companies in coronavirus-ravaged India are stepping up to help people in need, as authorities crack down on Indians using social media to ask for critical supplies.

A man in the country’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, in northern India, was arrested this week because he asked for oxygen for his father on Twitter.

He was one of thousands of people who took to social media sending SOS tweets in search of hospital beds, oxygen or medicine for sick family members.

More than 380,000 new coronavirus cases and 3,498 deaths were recorded in India yesterday, according to the Health Ministry.

Co-Editor of Quartz India, Itika Sharma Punit, said some companies adjusted their business models to provide essential supplies for people needing medical help.

“Many Indian companies are stepping up, everyone, every individual, every company whatever they can do to help the situation,” Ms Punit said.

“There are many other startups … who have launched fundraisers, they are doing a variety of things inlcuding trying to import oxygen concentrators or oxygen tanks from other countries,” she said.

Indian match-making app TrulyMadly is using its match-making algorithm to connect donors with people who require plasma to treat COVID-19.

Hotel chain OYO said it was offering rooms for healthcare workers to isolate, to prevent spreading COVID-19 on to their families.

“Hoping to unburden healthcare workers, patients’ families & contain the spread of the virus by providing safe spaces for quarantine,” OYO CEO Ritesh Agarwal said in a tweet.

Debunking false claims

Ms Punit said some websites, platforms and social media influencers started fact checking claims that oxygen and beds were available at hospitals.

“Some of these websites are specific to cities, specific to states, specific to localities in certain cases,” she said.

“Many social media influencers have been doing this just calling people, verifying leads, amplifying.

“There are several such platforms that are trying to match the demand and supply of medicines, hospital beds and oxygen.”

One of those sites includes FactCheck India, which is verifying social media posts and messages against information directly from hospitals.

“We have been physically verifying every WhatsApp forward and social media post circulating helplines related to hospital beds, medicines like Remdesivir and oxygen, among others,” FactCheck India’s website said.

India has set a daily cases global record for more than a week with an average of more than 350,000 infections.

The country has reported a total of 18.7 million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.

Daily deaths have nearly tripled in the past three weeks, bringing the total number of deaths to 208,330, but experts believe that figure could be an undercount.

They have blamed the surge on new, more contagious virus variants and mass public gatherings such as political rallies and religious events that were allowed to continue.

“In a lot of cases the data the government is putting out doesn’t match the narrative of people on the ground,” Ms Punit said.