‘Heartbreaking’: Jacksonville man loses uncle in India to COVID as nation struggles

Local families left hoping for help to arrive soon for loved ones in India

News4Jax reporter Zac Lashway spoke with one local man who lost his uncle to the virus in India.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The coronavirus outbreak in India is hitting close to home for some families in Jacksonville.

Tanmay Bhatt, who lives in the River City, said his uncle became sick with COVID in India and was taken to a hospital. He said he was stable for a little while but then his condition worsened, and he passed away.

“He was relatively healthy. He didn’t have any underlying conditions,” Bhatt told News4Jax Saturday as he played with his children on a playground in Jacksonville with a heavy heart, his mind on his family members across the globe in India, who are dealing with the loss of his uncle, Chandresh Vyas.

The coronavirus outbreak in India is hitting close to home for some families in Jacksonville. (WJXT)

Bhatt’s phone still holds the last conversation he had with his uncle, while Chandresh lay in the hospital hooked up to a ventilator.

Chandresh wrote: “I can’t talk. I have a mask. Thank you so much.” His last message to his family in Jacksonville: “I love you guys.”

“It’s just really heartbreaking, to have it that close to home,” Bhatt said.

Bhatt said he will miss his uncle’s smile most of all.

“He just had this huge belly laugh. He was a great guy. He loved being around kids. I have these great memories of visiting him when I was a kid,” Bhatt said.

Bhatt said the disease is spreading rapidly in India and the health care system is overwhelmed.

“There’s shortages with basic stuff, like oxygen,” Bhatt said. “There’s literally people lined up outside hospitals, on the streets, on the sidewalks, not making it and that’s what we hear through family and friends.”

Bhatt said the numbers of coronavirus cases exploded after some restrictions were lifted.

“I think at the same time they were rolling out the vaccine. I think they hoped one would cover the other, but I guess it didn’t,” Bhatt said.

In the meantime, loved ones are left in limbo hoping that help will be there soon.

This week, the U.S. began delivering therapeutics, rapid virus tests and oxygen to India, along with some materials needed for India to boost its domestic production of COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, a CDC team of public health experts was expected to be on the ground soon to help Indian health officials move to slow the spread of the virus.

“The local community here, within Jacksonville and the U.S., everyone is talking, and trying to figure out what they can do to support or help,” Bhatt said.

In the meantime, the U.S. is opting to restrict travel from India, starting Tuesday, because of the rise in cases.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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