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Virus shadow looms but few takers for masks, Covid test at protest site

A walk through the encampments of farmers at Delhi’s Singhu border quickly makes it apparent that the protesters, young and old, are mindful of the looming harsh winters. But the threat of Covid-19 is far less apparent.

Written by Sourav Roy Barman | New Delhi | Updated: December 6, 2020 9:56:31 am
Virus shadow looms but few takers for masks, Covid test at protest siteAt Singhu border. For protesting farmers, the fight against the new agricultural laws appears to outweigh fears of a viral disease. (Express photo by Amit Mehra)

Medicines to cure diarrhoea, cold and fever are finding many takers at makeshift medical camps dotting the highway. Face masks, hand gloves and sanitisers, though, remain largely untouched. And three teams deputed to collect nasal swabs do not have much to do either.

A walk through the encampments of farmers at Delhi’s Singhu border quickly makes it apparent that the protesters, young and old, are mindful of the looming harsh winters. But the threat of Covid-19 is far less apparent.

For protesting farmers, the fight against the new agricultural laws, which they say threaten to upend their way of life, clearly outweighs fears of a viral disease. But at the gathering, one of the largest since the pandemic, another view prevails among several protesters — misinformation about the disease and mistrust against the government. “There is no such thing as coronavirus. It is all a hoax whipped by the authorities to curb all forms of resistance,” said Avatar Singh (72) who hails from Mohali district.

The sentiment is echoed even by the young. Said 22-year-old Amandeep Singh from Patiala who reached Singhu on a scooter with his friend: “For the government, coronavirus is a way to make money as the World Health Organisation sanctions Rs 3 lakh for every Covid-positive patient.”

On Saturday, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar made an appeal that the elderly and children leave the protest site and return home.

Tarsem Singh, a resident of Gurdaspur, came looking for a medicine at a camp run by the Haryana Red Cross Society, complaining of diarrhoea. “I have a cough as well but the diarrhoea is troubling me more,” he said. Asked if he fears his symptoms could be linked to the viral disease, he said: “I believe corona is a bogey pushed by the government to crush such movements.”

Om Pal, who manages the camp, said the majority of those turning up for medicines are complaining of a cold and an upset stomach, a view shared by Dalbir Singh, who is attached with a camp run by a group of Sikh volunteers.

These camps also maintain a register containing names, contact details and health complaints of every person collecting medicines.

Dinesh Chillar, a senior official with the Sonipat administration, told The Indian Express that three teams have been deputed at the site to collect samples to test for Covid, but no swab has been collected so far due to lack of consent.

“We have handed over a list of those who complained of fever and cold to the persons leading the protests so that at least they can be tested and isolated,” the official said.

Volunteers of the Khalsa aid were also seen spraying disinfectants to keep mites and mosquitos at bay.

Various political parties, including the Congress and AAP, are also running langars at the protest site, which was growing in size by the hour as more and more farmers arrived from various parts of Punjab. Indian Youth Congress president Srinivas, who is also camping at the site, said the party is running two bannerless langars, while the AAP said it is running two community kitchens.

The Delhi government has also stationed two medical vans at the venue. However, testing is not being carried out by the government at the moment.

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