New Delhi – Japanese nationals living in India helped each other amid a deadly wave of the novel coronavirus early in 2021 that caused over 6,000 deaths a day at its peak.
Between March and May, the delta variant of the virus raged across India, boosting the number of confirmed daily infection cases above 400,000.
Overwhelmed by the surge, the country’s medical care system ran out of hospital beds and oxygen supplies. In May, what is believed to be the first COVID-19 death among Japanese nationals in India was reported.
Under a strict lockdown, some Japanese nationals living in and near New Delhi devotedly helped their terrified compatriots, delivering essential supplies and information.
The virus surge happened as many workers of Japanese companies were moving into India following a decline in new infections from autumn last year.
Among them was a Japanese man in his 40s who arrived in the Indian capital in April just before the city entered the lockdown.
The man, who is still in New Delhi, contracted the virus and was unable to go out even to buy daily necessities.
Online consultations with doctors and delivery services for drugs and food products are widely available in India, which had already experienced a lockdown last year. But the man was unable to use such services because he did not have an account at a local bank.
“I couldn’t buy drugs or food. I was about to die because of a lack of nutrition, in addition to a fever of nearly 40 degrees Celsius and pneumonia,” the man recalled.
He was helped by Mami Mizuarai, 45, originally from the city of Fukuoka. She runs a real estate business in New Delhi and is a member of a group supporting Japanese nationals in India.
Mizuarai became acquainted with the man when she helped him find a home in New Delhi. She delivered food to the man under isolation.
When his health condition got worse, she contacted Japanese Embassy staff and helped him to be admitted to an intensive care unit.
Mizuarai, who has lived in India since 2007, is well-versed in things Japanese nationals living in India need to know. She runs online communities for them, so she is keenly aware of the importance of correct information.
“There was a person who mistook a Malaysian announcement in panic and wrongly believed that a lockdown had begun in India,” she said.
“Another person spread a false rumor that even people who had not yet obtained results of their coronavirus PCR tests, required to evacuate to Japan, would be allowed to board a plane by negotiating directly at an airport,” she added. The rumor drove some Japanese nationals to attempt such negotiations, only to be rejected.
Mizuarai worked together with Japanese journalists in India and sent out information based on official announcements and local media reports through social media enthusiastically, even at the cost of sleep.
She shared information on the availability of hospital beds, vaccination reservation slots and supplies of daily necessities. The information she spread was not only useful but also supported Japanese expatriates emotionally.
Some Japanese nationals helped compatriots by supplying daily necessities.
Sakae Omori, 59, is manager of Iroha, which sells Japanese-style breads and other goods in the suburbs of New Delhi. He continued to run his store even under strict regulations and delivered goods beyond state borders.
Unlike last year, he delivered also to infected people.
“Of course I was afraid of getting infected,” said Omori, originally from Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture.
But he got through it by taking safety measures, such as thorough disinfection and a system of having infected people pick up the delivered items some time after they had been left at the door.
“A customer told me that I was a beacon of hope. I can’t turn it off,” Omori said.
Meanwhile, Masami Utamaru, manager of Japanese restaurant Manami in New Delhi, delivered bento boxed meals to Japanese nationals living alone.
Utamaru, 50, who is from Yokohama, accompanied delivery staff to ensure that thorough hygiene measures were taken.
“You can pay me later. Please eat well so you don’t lose your physical powers,” Utamaru told infected customers.
“I want people to feel relaxed at least when they are eating,” Utamaru said.
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