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Medical team cornered by mob in Kerala Covid-19 hotspot, coughed at, abused

On Friday morning, dozens of men and women came onto the streets in the village agitating against the tight lockdown restrictions and claiming that the health department's data on infections among them was hyped. They protested without masks and by abandoning social distancing regulations.

Written by Vishnu Varma | Kochi |
Updated: July 10, 2020 10:15:08 pm
A screen grab from a video where dozens of people protested against the tight lockdown restrictions.

A medical team that went to the coastal village of Poonthura off Thiruvananthapuram for Covid-19 swab collection Friday were surrounded by angry locals who threatened them with expletives and even coughed at them. Poonthura and its adjoining areas have been described by government officials as exhibiting a ‘super spread’ of the coronavirus infections with over 200 persons testing positive in the last week alone.

On Friday morning, dozens of men and women came onto the streets in the village agitating against the tight lockdown restrictions and claiming that the health department’s data on infections among them was hyped. They protested without masks and by abandoning social distancing regulations.

It was at this juncture that a medical team of four headed by Dr Dyuthi Hariprasad arrived in a car in Poonthura for collection of swab samples. As the team travelled to an Ayush clinic in the interior part of the village, they could notice men and women out on the roads in complete defiance of the lockdown protocol. But when they reached the clinic, they found the gates locked with no police officers present. And as they turned around to leave, their car got surrounded by angry locals.

“We understood that we were being followed by a huge group of people. There must have been at least 60-70 people. They started hitting the car and used abusive language at us. They became even more angry when they realised that we were a medical team,” Dr Dyuthi told over the phone.

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“They were saying that we were faking the disease and the case numbers. They wanted their people who were admitted to hospitals to be brought back because they didn’t believe they were infected. And when the driver lowered the window-pane to pacify them, some of them, without wearing a mask, began to cough in front of our face. They said if they had the disease, we should get it too,” the doctor added.

By then, the nursing staff along with the doctor were completely traumatised and began to cry.

“I heard some of the locals saying that they wanted to lock us inside the Ayush clinic and wait for the media to arrive. So I joined my hands and pleaded with them to let us go. ‘

Finally, the mob relented and allowed the medical team to leave the area. The team returned to their parent institution, the coastal speciality hospital in Valiyathura, and informed their higher-ups about their harrowing experience. They lodged a formal complaint with the district medical officer who directed them to go into seven days of quarantine. At the end of seven days, they would be tested for Covid-19.

‘I don’t think it’s possible for us to go there again without police protection,” said Dr Dyuthi, who joined the state health department this year.

There are reports of fake news being propagated among locals in Poonthura and adjoining villages about the authenticity of rapid antigen tests. Locals are also angry that even when infections are reported in neighbouring villages like Manickavilakam and Puthenpally, the blame always falls on Poonthura.

Poonthura sub-inspector Binu, who has also seen the ugly side of mobs, said, “They are telling us that they don’t have the infection and therefore don’t want to be tested. They say they eat raw fish and therefore won’t get Covid. How do we make them understand?”

Health Minister KK Shailaja, responding to the protests by locals in Poonthura, said, “This is extremely dangerous…I don’t know who has swayed these protests, but we must understand that it can do a lot of harm. There is a campaign spreading fake news about the authenticity of antigen tests. While RT-PCR machines take 6 hours to give results, antigen test results can be produced in half an hour. Antigen tests can be trusted. Out of the 1092 samples we tested, 243 have come positive.”

“Health workers are sacrificing a lot by working there. They are destined to save lives. Doctors, nurses and other staff are belittling their own lives to save others. Instead of supporting them, today, a doctor’s car came under attack. If they are attacked like this, who will go there to save our people? “

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