Ghulam Rasool* (name changed), a Kargil resident, was shocked to see his name being circulated on social media in a leaked list of COVID-19 positive patients. After one of Rasool’s co-traveller tested positive, he, along with other travellers, voluntarily got tested. But while they were still waiting for the results to be confirmed, the outcome of the tests, along with their names and personal details, was already viral on social media.
Rasool said he was horrified when he received a WhatsApp text, from his friend informing him of being COVID-19 positive. “I was shocked beyond comprehension. I didn’t know how to react,” he said. Before he could come to terms with what had happened, Rasool reportedly started getting calls from unknown numbers confirming his identity and abusing him. “I have received so many calls that I ended up blocking unknown numbers.”
“A few people were confirming my identity by asking whether I was the same person whose name was in the list. Others were lecturing me for being irresponsible, also accusing me of spreading the virus in Kargil,” he said.
Three hours later, Rasool received a call from the Sarpanch informing him about the test results. “I told Sarpanch that I was already aware of my test results through social media. But he seemed unaware,” Rasool said.
Ahmed Mir* (name changed), was admitted to the COVID-19 care hospital in Kargil when he received a photo on WhatsApp. The photo was of his house—sealed and demarcated with red flags. Unnerved, he immediately informed the officials. “I informed the officials and asked under which protocol had they put up the flags." The same evening flags were taken down, but Mir said, the damage was already done.
Mir’s name was also among the 17 leaked names of COVID-19 positive patients doing rounds on social media. Mir told NewsClick that his family was treated like an outcast. “It felt as if we have committed a crime.”
Recently, thecentral government had warned against disclosing identities of those affected by the novel coronavirus. “Never spread names or identity of those affected or under quarantine or their locality on social media. Avoid spreading fear and panic. Do not target healthcare and sanitary workers or police. They are there to help you,” the central government advisory read.
Public identification of the COVID-19 status of Rasool and Mir has given rise to fear and stigma. Mir fears that he and Rasool will face ostracisation even after they return home. “We don’t think our friends and neighbours will talk to us for some time.” The affected families have blamed the administration for the disclosure of their names and personal details.
"The matter is with the police. Four days ago, a committee was formed to look into the matter which includes Additional DC, Additional SP, among others. The investigation is on and those who are found guilty will be punished as per the law," Deputy Commissioner, Kargil, Baseer Ul Haq told NewsClick.
Ali Jafar* (name changed) has spent close to a month at the COVID Care hospital, which was earlier a polytechnic college. He has been tested thrice so far. Jafar said that he has received his test reports after a gap of 13-14 days, stretching his stay at the hospital. “Four days ago, I was tested again and I am still waiting for the result. Earlier, I had symptoms, but now I don’t have any,” he said.
Kargil, once declared as novel coronavirus-free is witnessing a surge in the number of cases now. Locals have attributed the spike in the cases to the laxity of the administration in conducting tests and delay in the results.
There are many like Jafar, who are awaiting their test results. Last week, people at the quarantine centre resorted to protesting and demanded that their test results be made available at the earliest. An FIR was also filed against one of the protesters, which were later quashed. NewsClick reached out to this protester, but they refused to comment.
“There has been a long delay in [delivering] the test reports. There have been protests, but nothing has changed. When test reports are delayed by 14 to 18 days, the asymptomatic people are coming out, buying essentials and mingling with others. This is the failure of the UT administration. People are following all the protocols, but it seems that the administration lacks seriousness,” said Sajjad Hussain, a social activist from Kargil.
The number of total active cases in UT Ladakh has reached 648 with 122 cases from Leh and 526 from Kargil.
Kargil has its nearest testing laboratory—which was established recently—200 km away in Chuchot Yokma, Leh. Despite having a laboratory in Ladakh, the delay in test reports has made locals fear that they will be, soon, at the risk of community transmission. “You never know, the person who is standing next to you in the queue could be an asymptomatic case because the person has not received their test report yet,” said Hussain.
However, Haq told NewsClick, “First, there is no community-level transmission. We are only testing people who have come from Red Zones like Delhi, Kashmir and Mumbai. There is a newly established testing facility in Leh, but it has the capacity of only 40 (tests per day). So, the samples are being sent to NCDC Delhi. NCDC Delhi is already overloaded with the cases, so it’s taking some time. We are constantly keeping a check. We are following all the SOPs and will continue to do so in the future,” said Haq.
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