“Ganesh was terrified from the moment he developed fever and body pain. He was worried for his parents,” recalls Gunasekaran, president of Tirupur’s 108 Ambulance Drivers’ Association. On June 24, the 22-year-old Emergency Medical Technician died soon after testing positive for Covid-19 — one of the few known deaths of an ambulance worker to the disease in the country.
One of the 120 contract employees with the Tirupur district’s 108 ambulance service at Avinashipalayam, Ganesh earned Rs 12,000 per month.
On June 9, Ganesh visited his parents in Dindigul, returning to the one-room accommodation he shared with other ambulance staffers on June 12. They say he began to show Covid-19 symptoms almost immediately, but got tested on June 16 and got his results two days later. He was admitted to ESI Hospital in Coimbatore on June 18 and passed away six days later, just one day after developing shortness of breath, according to his colleagues.
All of Ganesh’s contacts subsequently tested negative for the virus.
With the source of his infection still untraced, colleagues underlined the risks of their profession at a time when Tamil Nadu accounts for the second-highest Covid-19 caseload in the country, with little security in return.
“The government had announced that if a health worker died due to Covid, his family would get Rs 50 lakh. Ganesh’s family has got nothing, says Gunasekaran, adding that they got together to collect over Rs 60,000 for his parents.
Siva Sakthi, the driver of the ambulance assigned to Ganesh, says he is still in shock. “I was with him when he was moved to ESI hospital. I didn’t know it would be the last time I saw him. Just a week earlier, he had told me his elder sister was pregnant and that he wanted to spend some time at home and renovate his house.”
The youngest of four siblings, Ganesh was a Physics graduate. He took up the ambulance job to support his parents, both goatherds who make extra money farming, says Ganesh’s uncle Loganathan. “He had come to Dindigul recently to renovate the house. He wanted his parents to have a better life,” he says, adding that Ganesh had no underlying illness.
While the family had been worried since the coronavirus outbreak, Longanathan adds they didn’t have a choice. “Apart from Ganesh’s salary, they didn’t have any sustained income.”
Ganesh’s employee GVK EMRI — which has the contract to operate the 108-ambulance service in Tamil Nadu — helped Ganesh’s parents reach Tirupur from Dindigul after his death and have urged the Dindigul District Collector to provide them financial aid.
Sources said there has been no response from the collector’s office yet.