Agencies crack down on Covid-19 home isolation violators
A man who was isolating at home after testing positive for Covid-19 was found missing from his house in West Delhi’s Mohan Garden when a civil defence team checked on November 20. His family told the team that the man was out distributing invitation cards for a relative’s wedding. He is yet to be traced.
Around 5km away, in Bindapur, at least two members of a family of four, who were supposed to be in home isolation, were allegedly found shopping in the local market. When the civil defence team found them on November 17, they said they had been cured. They had tested positive less than 10 days earlier and the nodal officer said there was no record of them being tested a second time.
In Uttam Nagar, near Bindapur, a Covid-19 positive man was found missing from home isolation on November 20. When the field visitor questioned his mother about his location, the patient’s mother allegedly misbehaved with them.
The police have registered first information reports (FIRs) against all these alleged violators under section 188 of IPC (disobedience to an order by government servant) which carries a maximum punishment of one month or fine of Rs200 or both.
While the Delhi government did not share total figures pertaining to instances of violation of home isolation rules, senior officials in the revenue department asserted that such instances are negligible in proportion to the total number of people isolating at home which has helped the government keep the burden off hospitals even when the capital has witnessed three waves of Covid-19 surge.
So far, around 250,000 people in Delhi have recovered in home isolation and as on Sunday 21,337 active Covid-19 patients in Delhi were in home isolation, government records showed.
Among few other instances in October, a patient in Dwarka was found attending office in Gurugram, three patients from a family in Palam were found leaving home for evening walks in a local park, and in Janakpuri, a house with three Covid-19 patients was found locked.
“The Covid-19 crisis in the city has also led to the formation of neighbourhood groups which are often helpful to patients with delivering essentials and also flag violations at the local level. Most violations are sorted out at the local level and some are flagged to the government officials. In some cases, government officials come across violations on their own during field visits. Generally, first-time minor violators are left with a warning. Cases of repeated violations and those of severe nature have led to FIRs,” said a senior official of the revenue department who did not wish to be identified.
Currently, Covid-19 patients in Delhi are assigned 17 days of home isolation, during which teams of the district health department are supposed to periodically check on their health and location – both through phone calls and visits to their homes.
Delhi’s revenue minister Kailash Gahlot told HT: “Lakhs of people in Delhi have recovered in home isolation so far and several thousands are currently under home isolation. The home isolation model has succeeded in keeping the burden low on hospitals. People are aware of these facts and instances of violations are very few compared to the humongous scale of the model.”
“To further strengthen the model, we ensure that teams call up patients and check on their health as well as the location from time to time. Teams are also entrusted with conducting physical checks occasionally. Such checks and balances were further scaled up earlier this month in the light of the spike in cases,” said Gahlot.
Santosh Kumar Meena, deputy commissioner of police (Dwarka), under whose jurisdiction several cases have been filed in the recent days, said that such FIRs are registered whenever the district magistrate’s team brings such violations to the police’s notice.
“The DM’s teams have a list of Covid-positive patients. They checks on these people and report violations to us. We take action in all such cases which are brought to our notice,” said Meena.
But a lot many similar violations aren’t even brought to the police’s notice, allowing infected patients to visit crowded locations and mingle with unsuspecting people, said senior police officials.
A journalist based in south Delhi’s Greater Kailash said when she and her family tested positive last month, they also got a carpenter tested since he was working for them.
“Later, during a casual conversation, he revealed that he was going out to work just two-three days after being infected. He said that he did not show symptoms and needed to make the most during the wedding and the festive season,” said the woman who didn’t want to be identified.
Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) said that it is not uncommon for them to come across such violations.
“The discontinuation of the poster system has given patients the licence to not alert their neighbours about their infection. Earlier, relatives of patients were venturing out during infection period, now patients themselves are walking out,” said Rajiv Kakria, convenor of ‘Save Our City’ campaign, a collective of RWAs, NGOs and activists.
Initially, the government used to stick posters outside residences of Covid-19 patients in home isolation. In October, the government had done away with the practise in the light of a petition filed in the Delhi high court which asserted that the posters were in conflict with right to privacy and often led to vigilantism by local resident welfare groups. The government had also sought opinions from experts and they had said that doing away with posters would reduce the stigma attached to the coronavirus disease.
On November 3, the Delhi government told the high court that it does not paste such posters any longer.
Kakria, who is also a member of the Greater Kailash-1 RWA, said that he himself had seen an infected person loitering out in the neighbourhood during a period he was to be in home quarantine.
“It was only after he recovered that he casually mentioned to me that he was infected and assigned home isolation. Until then, we didn’t know of his infection and he was roaming outside carefree,” said Kakria.
Jugal Kishore, director and professor of community medicine at Safdarjang Hospital, said the trend was “very dangerous”. “If they could go out while being infected, we could as well tell them that they have been given treatment and they can get back to work. They need to understand that this is a communicable disease and they are exposing others to risk. If word of legal action against a few such offenders goes out, it can help control this problem,” said Kishore.
He said that the noticed pasted outside homes of patients was a double-edged sword. “Patients and professionals had rightly pointed out the stigma attached to the measure. But now we are seeing how the absence of such a measure means the neighbours are not able to keep a watch,” said Kishore.