There can be no running away, there can only be staying put.

By Vijaya Pushkarna
The deserted Anand Vihar integrated terminal of  buses,trains and metro in New Delhi,as India stayed home under "janata curfew". Photo by Pramod Pushkarna 

Almost  as soon as the “Janata Curfew” ended on Sunday evening, many state governments announced partial to total lockdown, indicating that our  stay-at-home during the day was a dry run to longer spells of life indoors. As citizens across the country came out on to their balconies and cheered the brave hearts in the frontline of the war against the corona virus, Air India called out thankless people, and stated that vigilante resident welfare associations and neighbors were ostracizing and calling police on its crew members who went abroad on duty.

The national carrier has carried out rescue missions, swooping into highly infected places including Wuhan, and brought home stranded and petrified Indians, with the crew putting themselves at risk.

"These vigilantes had conveniently forgotten that many a spouse, parent, sibling, child and near and dear ones were brought home safely from coronavirus-hit countries by the Air India crew," a press release issued by Air India said.

While the Air India crew were subjected to the required mandatory quarantine and isolation protocols set by the Health Ministry, there are many who have defied these instructions --eg Kanika Kapoor, the singer who has become famous really because of the corona virus she may have passed on right up to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Precisely to deal with people like her, the Delhi government  after announcing the standard lockdown measures, put 35,000 “foreign-returned persons “ who have been staying in the capital since 1st March, under watch. District magistrates have been directed to undertake a thorough verification through surveillance teams and ensure that these 35000 people remain in home quarantine for at least 14 days.

The order, issued under the Delhi Epidemic Diseases, COVID 19, Regulations 2020 under the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897, has directed that these foreign-returnees comply with this strictly, that the contacts of these people also remain under home quarantine for 14 days, and those who have been diagnosed as infected with COVID 19 shall mandatorily remain in isolation facility of the hospital and shall leave the premises only after being discharged by the treating doctor.

The country has had enough of the Kanika Kapoors, the IAS officer of West Bengal, the Agra-based wife of the Bengaluru techie, those who boarded trains and buses in spite of the “Home Quarantine” seal – of indelible ink the kind used during the elections—on their hands.

All these cases show sheer callousness on the part of people who think they are entitled to do as they want, defy the government directive and get away with it, and above all, behave in a mindless way. The attitude, doubtless was, it can’t happen to me, when it in fact happened largely to those who travelled abroad, and then got so close to others that it was comfortable for the corona virus to spread itself.

According to Bengaluru-based consulting psychiatrist Dr Ravi Shanker Rao, these people's  decision to do what they did  has little to do with rationality. “You can take rational decisions, you can take emotional decisions. Education does not come into play. Rationality means they know what they are doing .  Most of the people who are going to having Covid 19  are well to do, educated , so these are emotional decisions they are taking,” explains Dr Rao. According to him, there is always an element of fear of the unknown, as they don’t know what they are getting into. Equally, there is the fear of quarantine. “They don’t know what it means to be in quarantine, where, the conditions of the place, all that add to the fear and the anxiety,” he says. All this adds up to a lot of anger, as was seen at the Delhi International Airport where people had to wait for long hours as they were being tested, Dr Rao points out.

There is also stigma they experience because others would distance themselves the minute they realize they could catch the virus. At times like this, there is the fear of how it will impact one’s own health, and also apprehensions over  how others will respond.

According to the US-based  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Public health emergencies, such as the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), are stressful times for people and communities. Fear and anxiety about a disease can lead to social stigma toward people, places, or things. For example, stigma and discrimination can occur when people associate a disease, such as COVID-19, with a population or nationality, even though not everyone in that population or from that region is specifically at risk for the disease. Stigma can also occur after a person has been released from COVID-19 quarantine even though they are not considered a risk for spreading the virus to others.”
The Centers have identified people of Asian descent, those who have travelled and emergency responders and healthcare professions as some groups that may be experiencing stigma on account of COVID 19.

“Stigma hurts everyone by creating fear or anger towards other people. Stigmatized groups may be subjected to:
  • Social avoidance or rejection
  • Denials of healthcare, education, housing or employment
  • Physical violence.
·       Stigma affects the emotional or mental health of stigmatized groups and the communities they live in. Stopping stigma is important to making communities and community members resilient.”

The messaging  and awareness around quarantine—both  at home or outside –and isolation –self or at a hospital—needs to be explained clearly , so that there are no run-away virus carriers. And it has to be amplified that there is no stigma around corona virus.



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