Ten­sion, im­pa­tience stretch across states

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - SPOTLIGHT - Rupsa Chakrabort­y, He­men­dra Chaturvedi and Ran­jan let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com

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.

SATISH BATE/HT PHOTO

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.

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