There is a sense of vacuum in this East Kolkata neighbourhood, even for a city and country that is slowing down because of the threat of a pandemic. This is the groud zero for coronavirus in Kolkata, the neighbourhood where the 18-year-old patient, the first in Bengal, stays with his family. The student from the UK allegedly evaded screening at Kolkata airport and violated quarantine rules by visiting several public places around the city.
The neighborhood has been almost empty since the news came out late on Tuesday. A parking attendant who is on the job with a pink face mask, said he found out only after television reporters descended upon the residential complex on Wednesday. “What can I do? I have to work. I have no option,” he told indianexpress.com.
At the adjacent health club, two security guards are struggling with face masks and gloves in the sultry Bengal weather. One has taken off his mask and gloves; he still has a long day ahead in the heat.
Neither the boy nor his parents visited the health club recently, but the worried management has already sanitised its interiors and closed the premises till March 31. A large notice board outside informs members of this decision.
A bottle of hand sanitiser is kept at the gate for visitors, but according to the security guard, there haven’t been any for the past two days. “The boy visited a shopping mall and other places as well and his mother went to work at Nabanna. They shouldn’t have done that,” said the guard, adding that he too was worried, but didn’t have a choice. The student’s mother works at the State Secretariat.
In the residential complex where the patient and his parents live, daily-wage employees have been going on about their daily work, with those who can afford them wearing masks, while others are making do with handkerchiefs or dupattas. One of the guards said these workers stayed away on Wednesday, though he is not sure if they did so of their own volition or were told to by the building management.
Most residents are not moving out and access inside is being monitored. Around midday, a local grocery chain delivery service personnel entered on a bike with his face covered to deliver a package a resident had ordered. There is a mid-size water tank at the gates and security guards instruct all individuals entering and exiting the building to wash their hands there at the gates, where security guards instruct all individuals entering and exiting the building to wash their hands
The guards themselves don’t have any face masks or gloves. “Our company did not give us any,” said one. There are West Bengal government notices on COVID-19 awareness at the gates, which guard said were put up on Wednesday.
Soon someone from the security team of the building asked us to leave and stop speaking to workers exiting the building.
Across the wide road, Kannono Jha has a small road-side shop selling snacks and cola. “Usually this area is very busy but now it has become completely empty,” said Jha. “Yesterday, I found out about the boy. Like you have to do your job, I have to do it as well. There is no point in being afraid.”
While some residents have now started sporting face masks, many others have not. Most shops and establishments in the area are empty. Cleaning staff and security guards however, are on their job with masks and gloves.
In contrast to the silence here, all the noise is on social media where the family is coming in for flak for potentially exposing hundreds of city residents to the disease.
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