Hiding in plain sight on a road they now call home, hundreds of people from distant corners of the country wait outside Safdarjung Hospital and AIIMS for a pandemic to abate so they can be treated for cancer, kidney, cardiac problems and a host of other critical diseases.
The usually busy road dividing two of the biggest government hospitals in the national capital is quiet, the desperation of those who are too poor to move to a private hospital, too sick and too far from home to return echoing in the eerie silence of a lockdown.
Most of them, drawn to the hospitals for specialised treatment from various states, are packed into the few shelter homes, or ren baseras', on the side of the road and the subway connecting the two complexes.
Vijay Sahay, a farmer from Panna district in Madhya Pradesh, came here with his 13-year-old son who has been diagnosed with blood cancer. The wait for treatment is endless.
Stuck in the national capital since the 21-day lockdown came into effect from March 25, his priority is to get his BPL card from his village that can help him get medicines. But he can't go back home and can't avail treatment either.
I have been here since March 15. The doctors at AIIMS prescribed certain medicines but they are very expensive. Somebody told me that since I have a BPL card, I don't have to bear the cost. I want to get my BPL card. But how do I go back? he asked helplessly, looking at his ailing son, a Class 7 student who doesn't know when he will go back to school. .
Back in Panna, when Sahay is not farming, he works as a labourer to earn a living.
In the same shelter home is Amanjit Singh, a 22-year-old from Jammu who was referred to AIIMS after he met with an accident in October last year. There is no movement in his right hand and no medical attention as yet.
There is neither any diagnosis nor any treatment happening here. We have no money left and the best is if we can go back home. But we cannot as there is no means to do so, said Amanjit, who came here with his father.
Tens of thousands of migrant labourers left Delhi-NCR when a 21-day lockdown was imposed to contain the spread of coronavirus that has infected more than 6,000 people and claimed almost 200 lives. Since rail and road transport services were suspended, they preferred to walk hundreds of kilometres.
Those who came for treatment in the national capital didn't have that option because they were in no condition to even contemplate the journey home.
Though there are no exact numbers, there are hundreds of people like Amanjit and Sahay. In normal days, the two hospitals see thousands of patients. But all that has virtually stopped now as a coronavirus pandemic sweeps through the country.
While the AIIMS OPD is shut, the one in Safdarjung is functioning in a restricted manner. Patients have been waiting for days, weeks and sometimes months for appointments for dialysis, chemotherapy and other emergency procedures.
With the focus now on COVID-19, many are simply stranded.
The lockdown was imposed to ensure social distancing but it goes for a toss with scores staying in the cramped shelter houses, essentially makeshift tents set up on the sidewalk. In some cases, relatives have to share a bed with their patients. Although cleaning does take place in the government-run ren baseras', the sheer number of people crammed into a small area makes it difficult. There are flies all over the place. The rising temperatures adds to their woes.
Among the worst hit are patients with serious aliments like cancer, renal failure and heart disease in terms of hygiene as well as care and treatment.
Rekha Devi, 34, has been diagnosed with cancer and came here from Pillibhit in Uttar Pradesh with her husband Surjit Shrivastav just before Holi.
A month later, they are literally where they started in terms of the treatment. And all roads to home are closed. We could not even complete the prescribed testing when the lockdown was announced. With no money, we are not only stuck here but my wife is also not being treated, Shrivastav said.
He is also worried for his sons, aged 11 and 12, waiting in the village for their parents to return home.
The stories are many.
Shahne Alam, from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, was referred to AIIMS when the malignant tumour in his stomach burst. He is waiting for a call to know when his next chemotherapy session is.
We have been told not to leave the city. They (the doctors) can call us anytime for the session, said Alam, visibly weak and looking far younger than his 25 years.
Across the road, in another ren basera', waits Ajay Kumar Yadav, 45, with his wife Anju Devi, 36 , whose kidneys are rapidly failing.
The couple came to the national capital with the hope that Yadav could give his wife his kidney.
No treatment is happening right now. Plus, my wife needs dialysis twice a week, he said.
For the dialysis, he has to go to Munirka, which is some five kilometres from AIIMS.
'Since the DTC buses only allow those involved in emergency services, we cannot use it. So we have to arrange private transportation that costs an additional Rs 500. When we don't have money, me and my wife walk five kilometres one way, he said.