Amid rumours connected to the Covid-19 pandemic swirling in Punjab, a team of health workers was threatened with immolation as they tried to cremate body of a coronavirus patient at Moga’s Kokri Buttran village in Kot Isey Khan.
Villages, who gathered at the spot, abused the four-member team calling them “dalals (middlemen) of the Captain government” who were “declaring people Covid positive to mint money”. They also alleged that the deceased patient had been falsely declared as a positive case. As agitated villages allegedly threatened to burn the health workers in the pyre, they had to run for their lives after quickly cremating the body.
Following the incident that happened on Tuesday, a complaint was submitted on Wednesday by Civil Surgeon to the Deputy Commissioner for action against the villagers who allegedly misbehaved with the health team, abused and manhandled them and accused them of taking money.
The Civil Surgeon’s communication to the DC was based on a written complaint submitted to him by Dr Rakesh Kumar, Senior Medical Officer (SMO) Kot Isey Khan. In his complaint, Kumar stated that on Tuesday late, a health team had gone to village Kokri Buttran for the cremation of a positive patient and provide family with PPE kits. “However, the villagers there started abusing the health team and misbehaved with them. They also said that we are the agents of Captain government and take Rs 3-3 lakh.. Later, they also manhandled our driver and tore his clothes. Then the villagers also threatened to burn us alive. Whenever health teams visit villages for cremations of positive patients, no security is provided to the health teams. In almost every village, health workers have to face inappropriate behaviour. We request that action be taken against those unidentified villagers who misbehaved with the health team.”
Speaking to The Indian Express, Dr Amarpreet Kaur Bajwa, Civil Surgeon, Moga, said that a team had gone to village Kokri Buttran after an elderly woman, who was already suffering from paralysis, died due to Covid-19 at Military Hospital in Jalandhar.
“Our team had gone there to get cremation done as per guidelines for Covid patients. Villagers are suspicious of the patients testing positive for Covid and alleged that the deceased was declared positive in a false manner. Due to all these rumours that are going around against the Health Department, our teams face difficulties in villages during cremations as villagers refuse to believe that a patient was actually positive. In some cases, when PPE kits are given for last rites, they feel stigmatised because they do not want other villagers to know that their family member was positive but we have to ensure that all guidelines are followed,” said Dr Bajwa.
“On Tuesday evening, it was already very late and then suddenly some villagers attacked our driver. He was manhandled and his clothes were torn as per SMO’s complaint. They also threatened to burn our team alive and said that they will burn them along with the pyre. Somehow our team saved their lives and came back. We have written to the Deputy Commissioner and SSP for necessary action against the offenders,” he added.
Narinder Singh Dhaliwal, SDM, Dharamkot, meanwhile said that matter was being probed after receiving a complaint from health authorities. Dhaliwal added that villagers who misbehaved with the health workers will be identified and appropriate action will be taken against them by the police.
From the organ harvesting and trade of the Covid positive bodies to discrepancies in testing, several rumours have affected coronavirus management in rural Punjab and some villages have even declared that none among them will get tested or even allow health teams to enter or take away any patient for testing. On Thursday, Punjab Police said in a statement that it got blocked 108 social media accounts “for spreading vicious propaganda on organ trade during the pandemic”. Also, police said that 121 FIRs were registered across Punjab against rumour mongers who were “inciting public” with malicious content.
“A wave of misinformation is being spread through various social media platforms that doctors and paramedics are falsely declaring people Covid positive and then they are taking out their organs for monetary benefits. These obnoxious posts/videos on social media are not only defamatory to the state government and doctors but are also seen discouraging people from testing and treatment for Covid from various health facilities,” said Punjab Police in a statement.