A video clip that went viral on social media on Sunday framed the indignities meted out to people at a quarantine facility in Agra. The 25-second clip shows a PPE-clad (personal protective equipment) person tossing water bottles and food packets outside a locked gate and dozens of people stretching out their hands through the iron grille for these essential supplies. The woman shooting the video can be heard saying that she was brought to the centre for a check-up, which wasn’t conducted. Agra’s district magistrate has confirmed that this shocking incident “happened a few days ago”, ordered an inquiry into the incident, and claimed that “everything is fine now”. However, the visuals raise serious questions over the methods used in dealing with the pandemic in a city, which, only two weeks ago, was being lauded by the Centre for developing a model strategy against the novel coronavirus.
On April 5, the Centre issued guidelines for quarantine facilities in the country: “Disposable and pre-packed food needs to be served to quarantined people and they are to be kept on separate beds with distance of 1-2 metres with no bed facing opposite to each other”. The document emphasises a humane approach towards quarantined people, including providing them “counselling and psycho-social support”. It also talks of providing “regular training to all the staff” at the quarantine centres. The incident at the Agra facility reflects poorly on the sensitivity, and also the training and monitoring, of healthcare workers at such facilities. The according of human dignity is a constitutional necessity — in several verdicts, the Supreme Court has underlined that the assurance of dignity is central to the Right to Life under Article 21. But a compassionate approach in the country’s battle against the coronavirus is also needed to enhance the prospects of its success — humiliation of the kind meted out at the Agra facility could deter people from self-reporting their symptoms or cooperating with officials involved in contact tracing efforts.
UP’s Additional Chief Secretary (home) Awanish Kumar Awasthi has described the Agra incident as an “isolated” one. However, last month, health officials in Bareilly provoked outrage when they sprayed disinfectants on migrants returning from Delhi. The state government would do well to recognise that most of the country’s successes so far in the battle against the pandemic have come when administrations and officials have reached out to the people — to give a helping hand and also to enlist their trust and support.
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