AS SOON as he places the receiver back after patiently answering a slew of questions from the other side, the landline phone starts ringing again. Dr. Yogesh Bankar picks up the call, “This is the corona control unit. What’s your query?”
Since it was established on March 5, the helpline at the state Health Department in Pune has received thousands of calls from people across the state. The volume of calls has gone up since the first case of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was detected in the city on March 9.
“We receive a call almost every minute,” said Dr Pradip Awate, state disease surveillance officer. “At the moment, we just have one landline phone and there’s a team of about six people, including doctors and other personnel, who man it in three shifts”.
The questions from callers include “Should I start wearing a mask?”, “what are the symptoms of coronavirus?”, “I met someone who has recently returned from abroad, will I contract the disease?”, “What kind of handwash should I use?” and most frequently, “Where should I get myself tested?”.
“Since we can’t direct every person who has a cough, cold or fever to go and get tested, especially if they are from an area which may not have had any exposure to someone coming from an affected area, we ask them to visit the local health centre, and tell them the symptoms may just be of a normal flu,” said Dr Bankar.
Apart from the state helpline number 020 26127394, a national helpline number for COVID-19 related queries —011 2397 8046 — is also operational.
On Friday, the Sassoon General Hospital in Pune also launched a toll-free number to address the many queries about the disease. “We receive nearly five to six calls every hour,” said the call centre operator.
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