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Practise Social Distancing But Don’t Boycott COVID-19 Patients and Families

When a family goes through this phase, it is important to make them feel that you are with them. Give them any form of contactless assistance.

Kingson Chingakham

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“We were denied access to society’s elevator. We were denied delivery of milk by the milkman. We were asked not to go out by the society people. But we had to ultimately go out to get all the essentials”, said Ankur (name changed), who lives in Azadpur, North Delhi, with his old parents, wife and two children. Ankur’s father was diagnosed positive with COVID-19 in late April.

Ankur remembers the day the medical staff visited his society’s building to verify the details of the infected patient (his father) and family members. This is when all the problems started.

The medical staff came and put two posters – one just outside the door of his flat and the other one in the main entrance of the building (this is done in order to caution people around them). The posters mentioned the name of his father and the number of family members.

In a span of an hour, the pictures of the posters started circulating on the Whatsapp and Telegram group of the society building. Thus, began the fight against the paranoia created by people around them.

Some even wrote on the Telegram group that Ankur’s flat should be sealed for the next 20 days and no entry and exit policy protocol should be followed.

He said nobody showed any concern for his father. Nobody extended any help. Nobody asked how his family planned to get their essentials if they were isolating themselves.

Ankur was shocked to see how people were so inconsiderate. This insensitive nature added more to his mental and physical trauma.

What happened the next day?

The milkman usually delivers milk around 6:30 AM. It was 7:10 AM, Ankur called up the milkman to ask the time of delivery. The milkman did not answer. So, he dialled through the intercom and reached out to the building guards. To which, he got to know that the milkman had already delivered milk to the residents!

He again called up the milkman and requested him to leave the milk at the entrance of the building so that he could collect it himself. But the milkman denied. Ankur was in no mental state to argue with the milkman. He then called up the society’s President to seek some help because his kids needed milk.

What surprised him? The society President told him that the society people collectively decided to maintain some distance for their own safety. To be nice, the president said, “we are just taking precautions”.

At that time, at his location, same-day grocery delivery by Zomato and Swiggy was not available. So, he called up one local Kirana store and requested him to deliver some of the essentials. He did not hide the fact that his father was hospitalized because of COVID-19.

Fortunately, the owner accepted to leave the order at the main entrance of the building. But this was again unacceptable to most of the society people. They did not want him to move around the stairs and use the elevator. He received a message on the Telegram group to restrain using the elevator for the next 14 days (by the way the building was equipped with two elevators). The first day, he climbed down from his 7th floor flat and then climbed up again after fetching the grocery.

Fear & Paranoia

After he went down to collect the grocery, people started pouring in CCTV footage of him using the stairs on the Whatsapp group. It seemed like he had done some crime. The residents were angry with him. Some even called him ‘careless’ and ‘irresponsible’. But what could a person have done in that kind of situation when everybody started boycotting him and his family?

Just to get some peace of mind, he removed himself from the society’s group both on Telegram and Whatsapp.

It was important for him to visit his father at the hospital to check if everything was all right. Though the society people wanted him to stay indoor, the circumstances did not allow him to do that. He started using the stairs for the next 11 days. On the way back home from the hospital, he used to get all the essentials. Since he was visiting the hospital on a daily basis, people started treating him and his family with more suspicion. Nobody asked him how his father was doing. Nobody asked him whether he needed any help.

The Day his father got discharged from the Hospital

The day his father got discharged from the hospital, Ankur made a special request to the society to allow him to use the elevator. They demanded the final test report. People inquired whether his father had been tested negative or not. The hospital did not get his father tested before the discharge. The doctor advised him to get the retest done on the 20th day from the first day his father got tested.

It was very difficult for him to make them understand. They asked him to put his father at the hospital until he got tested negative.

The situation had reached to such a level that he could not handle it all alone and had to take police’s help. When the police arrived and saw the hospital papers and all the discharge papers, they cleared one of the elevators for use by Ankur’s family. The police advised Ankur to sanitize and disinfect the elevator after every use.

The final visit by the medical staff

14 days had passed. On the 15th day, Ankur was waiting for the daily calls the COVID helpline usually makes to the families to inquire about the health. He was informed that medical staff will visit his place to give him the government clearance certificate, which officially is the end of the quarantine period.

Around 1:30 PM, the medical staff visited his place and gave him the clearance certificate. The clearance certificate was given to him without his father’s retest results.

The medical staff removed the posters from the building and his flat. Ankur remembers the moment:

“Not exaggerating! But I definitely felt like a very heavy object got lifted away from my shoulder that day.

Back to normal nearly after 35 days, he started avoiding talking to his society people. The neighbours who were friendly with them before the crisis began showed their real colours when they were in problem. He realized that it was wiser for him to avoid and ignore such people who do not have any empathy.

Social Boycotting is not a Precautionary Measure

A complete social boycott can not be considered as a precautionary measure. When a family goes through this phase, it is important to make them feel that you are with them. Give them any form of contactless assistance. The most and the simplest being emotional support. Call up the family members and talk to them regularly or at least drop messages asking them about their well being.

My family has also experienced the COVID-19 positive phase. Though we did not experience this extreme level of social boycott, we could feel the paranoia around.

Know the difference between social distancing and social boycotting. I am happy if you are practising social distancing. However, if you have fallen prey to the paranoia around and have already started boycotting the COVID-19 patients and their family members, then you need to immediately stop it!

Personal Blog. For details please mail me at observersindia@gmail.com

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