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Queens Officials Back Plan to Send Medical Supplies to COVID-Battered India

Mayor Bill de Blasio announcing of a new line of bridge ventilators at City Hall in April 2020. Photo Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

May 17, 2021 By Christina Santucci

More than a dozen Queens elected officials and community leaders praised a plan to send medical supplies from New York City to India – to help the country deal with the pandemic.

Mayor Bill de Blasio had announced the arrangement on Friday, saying that the city would tap into its stockpile of COVID-19 test kits, swabs, ventilators and pulse oximeters, which measure oxygen saturation.

The mayor said shipments to India would include more than four million test kits and nearly 5,000 ventilators and BiPAP machines, which help push oxygen into the lungs and are also being used to treat patients with COVID-19.

As of Saturday, India had more than 24 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, according to the New York Times. The country’s Health Ministry said that the COVID-19 death toll had topped 270,000, but experts believe that figure is likely a vast undercount, the Associated Press reported.

India is “a country that is suffering, a country we feel a very strong tie to in the city, so many Indian-Americans here. So, New York City is going to step up and help the people of India through this crisis,” de Blasio said during an appearance on The Brian Lehrer Show Friday morning.

Queens elected officials – including U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Grace Meng, state Sen. Jessica Ramos, Assemblymembers David Weprin and Jenifer Rajkumar, Councilmembers Adrienne Adams, Peter Koo and Barry Grodenchik – all said they supported the decision to send the much-needed supplies to India, which has the world’s second largest population.

“As the first Indian American woman elected to state office in New York, I stand in solidarity with the people of India at their time of need,” Rajkumar said in a statement. “The largest Indian American population in the Western Hemisphere is here in New York City. It was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, ‘Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,’ and that has never been more true than during the COVID-19 pandemic. If there is a COVID crisis in India, then New Yorkers are in crisis.”

Borough leaders – such as officials from the Queens Community Lions Club; Romeo Hitlall of the Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park Lions Club; Dr. Uma Mysorekar, President of The Hindu Temple Society of North America; Shiv Dass, President of the Jackson Heights Merchants Association; and VJ Bisram, Board Member at the America Sevashram Sangha of Queens – also applauded the city’s decision.

“There are too many deaths and that needs to stop,” said Mysorekar, who is also a retired obstetrician and gynecologist. The Hindu Temple Society, which she heads, oversees the Ganesh Temple in Flushing. “Every bit helps, no question about that.”

Mysorekar also credited President Joseph Biden with sending assistance to India – but said the need for medical supplies and vaccines remains dire.

In Flushing, the society held a virtual prayer vigil in solidarity with India May 8, and the temple has been organizing special services on Sundays for worshippers who have lost loved ones to the COVID-19 virus.

“In whatever way we can help them ease their pain, we try to do that,” she said.

The temple recently completed a fundraising drive, which collected $130,000. Mysorekar said the money would be distributed to the hardest hit areas of the country by the India Development and Relief Fund.

Dass said the Federation of Indian Associations, a community group based in Jackson Heights, also raised about $70,000 for pandemic-fighting efforts in India, and he called the city’s shipments of supplies “a really good thing.”

“Any place helping in a situation like this is very welcome,” he said. Dass has cousins living in India and has lost distant relatives to the COVID-19 virus.

Both he and Mysorekar said they hoped that the second wave had passed its peak and that coronavirus cases would decrease in the coming days and weeks.

Hitlall, who owns a real estate company, said many southern Queens residents are worried about their loved ones, and his own family friends are also in India right now and unable to leave the country.

“By the mayor doing this, hopefully this will set a trend,” Hitlall said.

De Blasio said the city planned to send ventilators that it developed last spring – at the height of the virus’ spread in the city.

“These very same ventilators built here in New York City, in the midst of crisis, will now be there to help the people of India,” the mayor said.

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