People released after spending the 14 days quarantine in Ratsar Kalan village.
Lucknow: Expert across the world have opined that strictly following rules of social distancing and hygiene are the only keys to flatten the growing curve of COVID-19. However, keeping people under quarantine has emerged as the biggest challenge for the authorities in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh.
According to the official information gleaned through different districts of the state, over a dozen cases of people running away from the quarantine facilities have been reported across Uttar Pradesh.
In a recent case on April 19, a COVID-19 positive patient, who was brought to the isolation ward of the Ram Manohar Lohia Institute of Medical Sciences in Lucknow along with 12 other patients, managed to escape from the hospital. The hospital management took more than three hours to search for the patient in the hospital and then the police was informed for tracing the patient. Following this, the patient was found that very night through his mobile surveillance near the Bhootnath Market.
“The patient was under the impression that he may not be provided food and would be beaten up in the hospital. He came across these rumors in a WhatsApp video. We counselled him and now he is cooperating with the treatment,” said one of the nursing staff who has been deployed to treat the COVID-19 patients.
Earlier on April 16, three people who were put under quarantine managed to give a slip to the doctors and security guards at the quarantine centre made at the Doon college in Sunderpur village of Saharanpur district.
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According to Saharanpur Police, Raju Srivastava, a resident of Bhagalpur in Bihar, Bilal who hails from Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh and Rajesh, a resident of Champaran in Bihar, escaped from the quarantine centre where 69 people, mostly migrant labourers had been put under observation on Wednesday, April 15.
According to Biharigarh station house officer (SHO) Surendra Singh, the three men went out saying they were going out to take a bath but they did not return even after a couple of hours. Following this, a search team was formed to trace the trio. An FIR has also been registered against them under the Epidemic Act.
However, the SHO did not answer on being asked if bathing facility was not available in the quarantine centre.
According to Superintendent of Police (SP) Rural, Vidyasagar Mishra, 13 people have earlier escaped from this centre and were caught from nearby villages.
“Search operations have been launched to trace them and we have asked the villagers to notify us if they come to know about any suspicious man,” he said, adding that they will be caught soon.
Similar cases have also been reported from Raebareli, Sitapur, Azamgarh, Sultanpur, Bulandshahr and Kaushambi districts.
According to Additional Chief Secretary Awanish Awasthi, more than 66,000 people have been put under quarantine across the state while about 9,000 of them are under the vigilance of medical teams.
The Situation on the Ground
NewsClick visited a few of these quarantine centre made for suspected COVID-19 cases. In Ballia district’s Ratsar Kalan village, the quarantine centre was in a good condition with all the basic facilities being available like food on time, clean toilets, and other things but it lacked counsellors to raise awareness about the virus.
Talking about the problems in the quarantine centre, Ratsar Kalan’s village head, Smriti Singh, said that the government was a bit late in communicating the guidelines.
“I spent some money from my personal account as I wanted to help the people and not let the virus enter my gram panchayat. I did not know if I could use the funds from the midday meal scheme to feed the people and yes people who were put under quarantine were very much scared. It took me days to make them understand the seriousness of this problem. The other major problem was gutkha (tobacco), spicy food and homesickness. A lot of people kept on demanding gutkha and used to scale the walls in order to run but our people stopped them. Few of them used to get emotional seeing their family members standing at the distance. It took time for us but if there were professional counsellors then the things would have been a lot easier,” she said.
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“Being a pradhan I do have other responsibilities as well. The harvesting season has come and I had to address other problems also. I invested a lot of time convincing people to stay at the quarantine centres,” she added.
In another village of Barabanki district, the village headman has been managing every affair and claimed that the government only ordered without going into the detail on how to make things available for the migrant labourers who have come from other cities and were to be put under quarantine.
“Neither the government nor the administration was taking stock of the situation in my village and all I have been doing has been done through Pradhan lad funds which were assigned for the development of my village. It is my duty to keep Corona away so I am doing it,” he said on condition of anonymity. The pradhan is a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
WhatsApp Behind Rumour Mongering?
Dr S.C. Agarwal, a member of the team that was attacked in Moradabad district of Uttar Pradesh said on phone that rumours regarding the mistreatment of COVID-19 suspects and mismanagement at the quarantine centres could be the reason behind the attack on them. "We had gone to the area only after speaking to the families. We were attacked when we tried to take people under quarantine who came in contact with the suspected COVID-19 patient. People there were saying that there are no facilities at the quarantine centre and they have seen the videos on WhatsApp. We tried to make them understand but they started attacking our team with stones," he said.
On being asked the reason behind the attack, Moradabad SP City, Amit Tondon, said that it is too early to jump to any conclusion and the viral WhatsApp video angle is also being probed. However, he did agree that to some extent it was one of the reasons behind rumor mongering.
“We have identified all the people behind the attack but some are yet to be arrested. Once arrested we will start our interrogation and then only we will be able to tell clearly about the role of WhatsApp viral videos behind rumor mongering,” the SP City told NewsClick over phone.
Meanwhile, the state government has gotten Tik Tok handles, multiple YouTube accounts and Facebook posts removed for misleading people with wrong information.
Dr Prem Tripathi, a non-registered private medical practitioner based in Basti district said, “The health workers, the police and people employed by the government are burdened which is the main reason that not much awareness has been spread about putting people under quarantine.”
“The police have other things to do, doctors are busy treating people at the hospitals and there is no one actually left to raise awareness on the ground. The government can think of roping in private doctors who are the first person contact in villages to raise awareness on this pandemic and it can also use the private paramedical staff to counsel people who have been put under quarantine,” he said.
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