by Chidanand Rajghatta

WASHINGTON: An Indian-American CEO of a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company is among scores of coronavirus victims from the subcontinent, a death toll that includes several New York City cab drivers. Some of the victims are dying alone in hospitals, with family members and friends unable to be in close proximity during their final hours because of medical and travel restrictions, and in some cases Indian citizens have had to be buried or cremated with minimum or no ceremony in the US because of the travel ban.

Among the dead this week is Hanumantha Rao Marepalli, 56, of Martinsville, NJ, who was President & CEO, Sannova Analytical Inc., and who formerly worked for pharma major Novartis. Marepalli reportedly died on Friday, and as per directives from the New Jersey administration and the North Brunswick Mayor’s Office and the North Brunswick Office of Emergency Management, his last rites have been entrusted to a designated funeral home in New Jersey. The Telugu Association of North America (TANA) however said Marepalli passed away after a heart attack, but nevertheless was part of a distress situation in which the dead are not being adequately memorialized as per Indian rites because of the circumstances.

Although Indians in America are counted among the country's elites in terms of education and income, many work in areas that constitute the frontlines in the pandemic: doctors, nurses, cab drivers, truckers, grocery and convenience store workers, gas station attendants etc. Also among the dead are more than 40 workers of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) that runs the New York City subway and employs a large number of Indian-origin personnel.

Reports in the Pakistani media speak of more than 100 Pakistanis, who now dominate the cab and limousine trade, having died in the NY-NJ region, attributing the figure to Pakistani diplomats. Indian officials said there were 11 confirmed deaths of Indian passport holders, but declined to provide names and details citing privacy concerns.

Scores of travellers from India on tourist visas, including parents visiting their children and grandchildren, are among those stranded in the US following the lockdown. In one instance from Parsipanny, NJ, parents of a couple visiting US for their daughter’s delivery contracted the virus and are in hospital in a critical condition, as is their son-in-law. The daughter delivered a healthy child and both mother and baby are stable.

In another instance, an Indian doctor who passed away in North Carolina has had to be cremated in the US even though he is an Indian citizen. Two Indian students who have died in recent weeks in cases not related to coronavirus have had to be cremated here and their ashes are being preserved by a community organization at the request of parents, pending repatriation to India. In another instance, an Indian-American permanent resident who has been diagnosed with cancer post the coronavirus outbreak is awaiting his immediate family, stuck in India due to the travel ban. Names of people involved have been withheld on request from community activists attending to the cases.