Residents of the central Mumbai housing society, where a 63-year-old man tested positive for COVID-19 on March 13 and succumbed on Tuesday, said the patient faced social discrimination, including receiving abusive messages on the phone and social media platforms. His wife and son have also tested positive and remain admitted at Kasturba hospital.
The residents alleged that after the man tested positive, people who managed to identify him, sent him hate messages and discriminated against his family members.
“Since the day he tested positive, he started facing criticism from many people — his close relatives, some society residents and also those who have known him for years. He received messages where people blamed him from spreading the virus. The next day, someone sent him a message stating that the man who had tested positive had died. This caused immense grief to his family. Imagine receiving a message of your own death,” a resident said.
Rumour mongering also led to the man’s daughter and granddaughter facing discrimination in school and their locality, said residents.
The 63-year-old had been a resident of the society for the last 20 years. After the news of the infection spread, domestic helps and other service providers were scared to come to the society fearing contamination, said residents.
Around six to seven service providers tested negative for the virus.
The BMC surveyed 460 houses in 15 buildings around the man’s residence to check for patients with symptoms but found none. While seven relatives were tested for the virus, his wife and son tested positive.
At the private hospital, where the man was admitted, eight doctors, staffers and nurses tested negative for the virus.
At least 74 hospital staffers were advised home isolation for 14 days.
However, it is not only the deceased and his family who faced social discrimination. Residents alleged that “outsiders are spreading rumours” about the society.
“BMC employees came on Monday and asked us if everything is fine. We told them about the problems we have been facing. Outsiders are spreading rumours and creating panic. There is a need for an awareness and sensitization programme in the area,” said Dakshesh Sampat, a resident.
“When we told civic officials about the discrimination, they said they can’t do much as the society and neighbouring area falls in two different wards.”
He added, “People think we have become untouchable. At night, bikers shouts ‘corona’ around the society and run away. We had hired a contractor for arranging a hand washing facility outside the building. The contractor had already installed the basin and did not turn up for remaining work. We are facing mental trauma… People should know if precautions are taken properly, nothing will happen. We are requesting authorities to end our ordeal by organising an awareness drive.”
The residents also alleged that when BMC officials came for sensitisation of the building, they did not even bring hand sanitisers. “They said that they will take two to three days to arrange for sanitisers or disinfectants. We then bought sanitisers from Bhiwandi,” said a resident.
When contacted, Deputy Executive Health Officer Dr Daksha Shah said she will look into the issues being faced by the residents. “I have taken this up seriously. I will ensure that this problem is resolved.”