Tension, impatience stretch across states
MUMBAI/AGRA/BHOPAL: Azad Nagar in Indore, Ramganj Bazar in Jaipur, Dharavi in Mumbai and Master Plan Road in Agra may be divided by geography, but they have one thing in common.
All four neighbourhoods are Covid-19 containment zones, cut off from the rest of their cities, all residents confined indoors and no outsider allowed in.
Life wouldn’t have been easy for the residents of these neighbourhoods, which have been under what’s called a hard lockdown -- a state in which a particular area is completely sealed and residents have no freedom of movement -- after a significant number of cases surfaced within their municipal limits.
Everyday essentials are home delivered so that residents don’t need to step out and the heavily barricaded localities are sanitised everyday.
They have been isolated in the run-up to and after Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a three-week nationwide lockdown that came into force on March 25, and has since been extended twice, until May 17.
It isn’t easy either for government officials deputed to these areas, classified as highly contagious, who have to spend most of the day visiting homes to trace the contact history of locals, ensure no one is breaching the quarantine, and gathering information about the health of residents that goes into the framing of national policies to combat Covid-19.
There have been instances of abuse of officials, some of whom have even been spat at.
Mamta Patel, 42, doesn’t let that deter her. A mother of two, Patel is a revenue department official tasked with ensuring compliance with lockdown restrictions in Indore’s Azad Nagar, from where the most number of Covid cases -- 80 -have been reported.
Every day, Patel confronts people who exhibit a mixture of fear and apprehension, pain and distrust. She takes each case as a challenge as she goes about doing her duty in what she calls these “tragic times”.
“Recently a woman and her three-year-old child tested positive. The woman, who has a three-month-old baby, wanted a family member to come with her to hospital. It took us lot of time and energy to convince her that it will not be possible,” Patel said.
There have been instances of women not willing to go to hospital leaving their children behind. “Some who tested positive wanted to remain in home quarantine, which is not possible,” she said.
Patel has been on the job since the first case was reported on March 23 from the neighbourhood of 100,000 people, and hasn’t taken a single day’s leave.
She is tasked with surveying the area, screening residents, collecting samples, hospitalising positive cases, and following up with recovered patients.
“In the beginning, people were hostile. Gradually we won the faith of the people and they are now cooperating,” she said.
Patel’s husband, too, is on Covide-19-related duties in Indore. “I am at the locality at 9am every day after finishing work at my house as the maid is not coming in because of Covid,” Patel said. “My children -- one in Class 12 and the other in Class 8 -- often ask me how long this will go on. I assure them that life will be normal soon,” she said.
A few hundred kilometers away in Mumbai’s Dharavi, Asia’s biggest slum, Nazish Shaikh, 33, has been attending to Covid-19 patients for over a month with no leave.
The health care worker is among 2,500 people deployed in the containment zone. All of them work wearing protective suits in Mumbai’s sweltering weather.
Dharavi, a densely populated slum of 850,000 people, has already recorded 496 Covid-19 cases with 18 deaths. Screening slum-dwellers while dressed in full personal protective equipment (PPE) kits isn’t easy. People can’t see the faces of health care workers attending to them; it creates trust issues and impedes communication.
“With the rising temperatures, walking around in PPE leads to dehydration. And we can’t even drink water in the suit. The N95 masks make it tougher to breathe,” Shaikh said.
She works for up to 10 hours daily despite keeping a fast for Ramzan, and has to be extra careful to make sure she doesn’t catch the infection herself because she has to take care of two elderly parents at home.
“My parents wait outside the home for me. I don’t even look at them and go directly into the bathroom. Then I take a bath in warm water with Dettol and soak my clothes in detergent in a separate bucket. Only after this do I allow them to come inside. I can’t take risks with their health,” said Shaikh, who has been on duty since March 19.
Equally tough is the job of Chaitali Choudhary, 38, a mother of two, who has to convince people suspected of being infected by the Sars-Cov-2 virus to go into and remain in home quarantine.
“As many remain asymptomatic, they don’t agree to go for institutional quarantine. Some behave as if they will be put in jail,” she said.
Because she interacts with Covid-19 patients daily, she keeps a safe distance from her two children at home. “My parents who live in Nagpur are very worried about us as my husband is also a doctor and deployed to take care of Covid patients,” she said.
In Agra’s Master Plan road, RK Dixit, 58, the district malaria officer, has the job of sanitising the locality every day as the head of a 60-member team. “We have been working since midMarch,” Dixit said. Sanitiser is sprayed in target areas and at the quarantine centres.
His team hasn’t been spared the frustration of residents, some of whom even spat on them. “There were a few such incidents initially but now locals cooperate,” he said.
Dixit said he has never in his career as a health officer seen such fear among people as that inspired by the coronavirus disease. “At the fag end of my career, I have learnt a lot,” said Dixit, who will retire in two years
Ajitabh Sharma, the nodal officer for Ramganj Bazar road in Jaipur, has experienced the pain of people who have been without work and living with the fear of Covid-19 for almost two months . “There is no much pain and anguish, which words cannot explain..More than corona, fear is killing people. This has been the toughest job of my career,” he said.
Suresh Kumar, 32, who responsible for distribution of food in the slums in Mumbai, compares the situation to a science fiction movie that is all too real.
“The fear on the faces of people is so real,” he said.
Health workers in Mumbai’s Dharavi, a containment zone, say screening residents dressed in personal protective equipment kits isn’t easy, especially with the temperatures rising.