CIVIC OFFICIALS have moved a 72-year-old woman and her 75-year-old husband, a retired Railways surgeon, to a hastily set up government quarantine building on Mira Road, 30 km from Mumbai. “It seems this (disease) is spreading fast. And we are the most vulnerable, we understand, but at least treat us with respect,” says the woman.
Maharashtra is putting up quarantine centres to isolate senior citizens with recent foreign travel history; across the state, there are 7,000 quarantine beds and 500 isolation beds.
On Mira Road, one such quarantine building has over 20 senior citizens, the woman and her husband among them. Most can walk only with support, some are diabetic and hypertensive. The rooms have Indian-style toilets, which most cannot use because of knee problems. Some bathrooms have no water. And while many are diabetic, they are being served sheera and tea with sugar. So, most avoid eating and choose to go hungry.
The couple returned to Mumbai from Berlin on March 17. Both are hypertensive and diabetic. On arrival, the authorities took them to Seven Hills hospital, a fully-dedicated quarantine facility, from the airport. They were discharged on the morning of March 19 after they tested negative for coronavirus (COVID-19).
“But we were aware and decided to home quarantine ourselves nevertheless,” she says. The couple informed their residential society that they will follow 14-day quarantine. They stopped putting out trash, washed clothes in disinfectant and cooked their own meals. On Saturday, however, a Mira Bhayander civic official came to them and asked them to immediately move to a quarantine facility.
“The official told us that all senior citizens were being taken to the facility for 14 days. We cooperated of course as we didn’t want to risk our society,” the woman says.
The ambulance, she says, had not been sanitised and it took them to their new home for the next 14 days, a newly-constructed MHADA building in Golden Nest. Each person has their own room.
On Saturday night, dal, rice and vegetables was served in poly bags, which the couple decided not to eat. With no family close by, one daughter is in the US and another in Berlin there was no one they could call to bring them food.
“There is television and Wi-Fi, but we don’t need entertainment. We need basic amenities. We were living in the comfort of our house, following all quarantine rules. But many like us have been dragged out of our homes to live in poor conditions,” she says. Her husband suffers from knee pain and cannot use the Indian-style toilet. “The toilets are dirty. There is hardly any staff or doctor. We can’t complain to anyone here,” she adds.
Another 64-year-old man, who returned from Dubai on March 15, says he has been at the Mira Road centre with his wife since Saturday evening. The couple with their four family members, including son and grandchildren, were observing home quarantine at their Mira Road residence before civic officials separated them. His wife says, “We didn’t leave home even for a single day. We didn’t want to come here but what could we do?” After several complaints, he says the lunch served on Sunday was better.
State government officials say toothbrush, sanitiser, toothpaste and soap have been provided to all senior citizens quarantined at the MHADA building. They have expressed helplessness at having to separate several of them from their families. An official says several people who had been advised 14-day home quarantine were found to be flouting rules. “Since senior citizens are at high risk, they are being kept under observation,” says a state health department official.
Vandana Bhavsar, a local corporator, says, “I received complaints against poor facilities. We are looking into it.” The senior citizens The Indian Express spoke to say they are ready to live in quarantine facilities to avoid the risk of infection but have urged the authorities to provide them with better living standards.
Sitaram Shelar, from NGO Centre for Promoting Democracy, says, “In Vile Parle, police ordered a homeless senior citizen to move away from the footpath. He took a train and went to Nallasopara. If the police target him again, where will he go? We need to protect our elderly population. The senior citizen is a hawker who sells various items at traffic light points. “I am now in Nallasopara. I borrowed some money to rent a small room. But the city is shut, how will I earn?” he asks.
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