Everyone from middle-class Indians to migrant workers are getting out of the country as fast as they can as the COVID-19 crisis escalated.
On Saturday India logged another over 400,000 new COVID-19 cases and a record death toll of 4,187 in a 24-hour period,
According to Daily Beast, private jets, often used primarily by Bollywood glitterati and business moguls who left weeks ago, are now being booked by the middle class who are spending their life savings to save their lives.
JetSetGo CEO Kanika Tekriwal told CNBC’s Street Signs Asia that her company has seen a 900 percent increase in bookings, but it is not her usual clientele.
“To say that only wealthy Indians are leaving India on private jets would be wrong,” Tekriwal said from her own safe haven in the Maldives.
“In the last 10 days, what we have really seen is anyone who can put together the resources and the means to pool in money for a private jet, or to pool in money just to get out of the country, getting out.”
The most popular destinations are the Maldives, which fetches around $20,000 for an eight-seat jet with a pilot, and Dubai, which runs a whopping $31,000 for a six-seater with a pilot to the United Arab Emirates.
Both countries are among the last to allow Indian passengers to enter as long as they test negative for COVID-19 before departure—which, with odds at 2-1 they have the virus based on spiking contagion rates, is not a guarantee they will get to leave.
But it is those without life savings to spend who are spreading the deadly virus to neighbouring countries. Thousands of migrant workers escaping the country have now turned neighbouring Nepal into the next hell.
Some experts predict that the situation could be even worse than in India and the country’s prime minister, K.P. Sharma Oli, much like India’s Narendra Modi, has been widely criticised for mishandling the pandemic response.
On Saturday, India reported its highest ever single-day COVID-19 death toll, as cases continued to rise and states imposed stricter lockdowns.
India’s health ministry reported 4,187 fatalities over the past 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to just under 240,000.
Cases rose by 401,078, increasing the total since the start of the pandemic to 21.9 million.
Medical experts say the real numbers of COVID-19 cases and fatalities are likely to be far higher than official tallies.
Tamil Nadu, known for its automobile manufacturing including BMW, Daimler , Hyundai, Ford, Nissan and Renault, said it would move from a partial to a full lockdown on Monday, stopping public transport and shutting state-run alcohol retailers.
Neighbouring Karnataka state extended a total shutdown late on Friday. The state capital Bengaluru is a major tech hub, home to major offices of companies including Google, Amazon and Cisco.
India is yet to impose a national lockdown as it did during its first wave last year, but around half of all its states have imposed a total shutdown. The rest are under a partial shutdown.
Though it is the world’s biggest vaccine maker, India is struggling to produce and distribute enough doses to stem the wave of COVID-19.
Although the country has administered over 167 million vaccine doses, its rate of inoculation has fallen sharply in recent days and only around 2% of its 1.4 billion people have received the two doses needed to be fully immunised.
A CRISIS IN THE SOUTH
While cases in the country’s northern and western areas have borne the brunt of the pandemic, southern states including Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have seen infections surge.
The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in India has brought the healthcare system to the brink of collapse, with patients dying due to lack of oxygen or access to hospital beds.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticised for his handling of the oxygen shortage, though the government says it is doing all it can.
Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin said in a letter to Modi late on Friday Tamil Nadu’s medical oxygen demand could double in the next two weeks.
“The availability of oxygen in Tamil Nadu is very very critical,” Stalin said, adding that 13 patients died in a hospital on the outskirts of Chennai due to the lack of oxygen.