CHANDIGARH — The SAS Nagar (Mohali ) district administration has uploaded the names, addresses and telephone numbers of over 200 people on its official website, suspected of carrying the novel coronavirus or COVID-19, who have been placed under precautionary quarantine at home.
This information has been shared without their consent in an atmosphere of fear and suspicion, exposing them to harassment from the media, their neighbours, landlords and Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs).
HuffPost India reached out to some of the individuals on this list who stressed they were under precautionary quarantine: They have not been tested for COVID-19, many have not even shown symptoms — but have been asked to self-isolate because of their travel histories. Now, they fear this disclosure by the district administration would stigmatise them.
The people HuffPost India spoke to were particularly incensed by the fact that the quarantine dates imposed by the authorities bore no relation to their actual exposure — but were arbitrarily fixed from the date that the authorities tracked them down.
Mohali Deputy Commissioner Girish Dayalan told HuffPost India that the identities of quarantined people were revealed under “social pressure”, and that outing those under quarantine was necessary to contain the virus from spreading further into the community.
The Mohali administration’s response is at odds with the policy followed elsewhere in the country where authorities have generally avoided stigmatising patients. The district authorities have also issued directions for such people to be stamped on the back and the inside of the wrist of the right hand indicating the last day of the quarantine period. This latest response illustrates the Indian bureaucracy’s well-established mixture of ineptitude and authoritarianism has crept into India’s response to the threat posed by the coronavirus.
“It is a breach of trust. We had shared our addresses and phone numbers with the district health authorities in order to support them. They should have informed us or have sought our permission to share our details in public domain,” said the wife of a person who was on the list.
Her husband, whose identity HuffPost India is withholding, had arrived from South Korea 17 days ago the woman said. He had already finished his fortnight of self-quarantine and was displaying no symptoms, but had been put on a mandatory quarantine list for another 14 days.
“Majority of the people are not taking precautions even during their quarantine period and visiting the markets and religious places. A woman had locked herself inside the ambulance and refused to get tested. What better could have been done in this scenario?”
Manjit Singh, an expatriate Punjabi who is now a Italian citizen, said he was shocked that his address and contact number was made public.
“I had come to Punjab with my family to hold the marriage of my younger brother but got stuck due to suspension of flights. While I have been here since February 1, they put me on quarantine from March 12,” said Manjeet Singh. “I had already completed the 14 days quarantine period on February 15 and there was no need to put me in the list.”
While the health authorities knew he had arrived in India on February 2, they imposed an additional quarantine on his starting March 12 — the date they had traced him to his home in Kharar. Also, as per the family, the administration is yet to identify and approach the relatives who had attended the wedding and put them into quarantine period.
This also points to the fact that the district administration could not trace majority of the people suspected to have been potential carriers of COVID-19 Virus even after the completion of the quarantine period hence putting the lives of many at risk.
Another family under quarantine in Zirakpur was similarly outraged.
“If they are so worried about us, why didn’t they get us tested so far?” said Sahil, who gave only his first name. Sahil said the family had voluntarily gone to a testing centre as a precaution, but the centre refused to test them as they had no symptoms.
“They sent us back and now they put our names in the quarantined list,” said Sahil. “It does not make any sense as we have already completed our quarantine period on March 18.”
Deputy Commissioner, wife too quarantined for 14 days
Earlier this month, Mohali Deputy Commissioner Girish Dayalan and his wife Avneet Kondal, who is Senior Superintendent of Police, Fatehgarh Sahib in Punjab had voluntarily put themselves under quarantine upon their return from a trip to Italy and Switzerland.
“Majority of the people are not taking precautions even during their quarantine period and visiting the markets and religious places. A woman had locked herself inside the ambulance and refused to get tested. What else could we do in this scenario?,” told Dayalan to HuffPost India.
A 69-year-old woman from Mohali who had arrived from the UK on 13 March has been found to be COVID-19 positive. She had travelled to India along with a cousin in whose house she was staying in Mohali.
As the woman broke protocol by not reporting to a government facility, she was virtually “dragged” to a civil hospital, along with a cousin whose test results are awaited. A video pertaining to this went viral on social media.
In further exercise of the Punjab Epidemic Diseases, COVID 19 regulations 2020 and the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, the district authorities has asked the people to either stay quarantine at home or use has provided quarantine facilities in six private hotels at a cost ranging between Rs 2000 to Rs 2500 per day.