Kaushik’s mother has been sick for the past few days. She is feverish with a dry cough. His father, a policeman posted in Ranchi, also has a sore throat with a dry cough. He fears that they might have contracted with COVID-19 and is keeping distance from his parents. Kaushik was asked whether he had taken his mother to the doctor yet to which he replied, “You want me to snitch?” The family of three is afraid that the doctor would lock down the mother. He later told me that his father had heard at the office that someone suspected to have the disease has been burnt to death. Whilst no evidence supports this horrific tale and the couple might have a common cold or flu; what must concern to the readers is- there are some people with COVID-19 symptoms who would refrain from getting medical support because they fear of being put to confinement.
People are confused between isolation and an arrest. By medical definition, isolation is a method to separate and restrict the movement of ill persons who have a communicable disease from those who are healthy. It is a medical procedure and is benevolent to the individual and people around them.
The incident of a lady from Agra escaping quarantine has been viral. There’s a dire need to understand people’s disbelief in government public health facilities and their attitude towards medical procedures like isolation. A first-hand narrative is from an Indian student in Paris. Vishrut was recommended to vacate student housing. He hence returned to his parents on a Delhi bound Air India flight from Charles de Gaulle Airport on March 15, 2020. At Indira Gandhi International they checked all passengers for temperature and marked for isolation which was obvious given that France reported over ten thousand cases till date. The passengers’ passports were confiscated and over a hundred eighty travellers from France, Germany and other destinations were put in a five hundred square foot room. Vishrut says, “it felt like the concentration camp from the Mark Herman movie.” They put people in one of the three facilities later- Manesar, Gurgaon, or Dwarka. As for Vishrut, they took him to SGT Hospital in Gurgaon in a Government bus where they had to load their luggage themselves. Vishrut’s room accommodated fifty people, each on beds at half a metre’s gap. They queued up for the single toilet available. The yellow-tinged bedsheets, the odour in the air and the buzz from the confused public, his narrative of the environment reminds of any Indian Government-run hospital as we know it. They detained him and fellow passengers for over fifteen hours with a cup of cold tea and a small packet of Parle-G. None was tested or forced to isolation in the hospital; three elderly did so voluntarily. When Vishrut called me later that night, he said, “I don’t think I’ve contracted the virus in France. I probably got it at the airport.” Perhaps, therefore, the eighteen-year-old son of a top West Bengal bureaucrat who tested positive for COVID-19 tried to avoid quarantine facilities on his arrival to West Bengal. However, unlike Vishrut who is on self-quarantine and has not even touched his parents since arrival, the Bengali boy has been around to places of leisure and risked the health of many others including his parents who work with top officials, his driver, and domestic help who work at homes of other people in the area.
The Prime Minister in his address to the nation on March 19 received mixed reactions. A proportion was concerned that the PM has not mentioned the steps taken by the government to curb the issue. For now, there are two hundred thirty-three recorded cases and no need for panic as there is no evidence of community spread. India still has the potential to be under a massive health crisis. China and South Korea have combated the spread of the virus by imposing complete lockdowns and restricting the movement of people. However, it was too late and after significant damage. It is quintessential that readers worry about their health and that of the people around and refrain from any unnecessary movement out of the house, preventing the spread of the virus and hence putting it to latency in India and elsewhere.