Farmers demonstrating on National Highway-9 during the protest against farm reform laws, in Ghaziabad, India on Thursday, December 3, 2020.(Photo by Sakib Ali/Hindustan Times)
Farmers demonstrating on National Highway-9 during the protest against farm reform laws, in Ghaziabad, India on Thursday, December 3, 2020.(Photo by Sakib Ali/Hindustan Times)

Despite huge crowd at protest sites, no Covid-19 testing

It has been a week since farmers from across the country launched their protests against the Centre’s farm bills along Delhi’s borders, but none of these protest sites had a single Covid-19 testing camp as on Thursday.
By Sweta Goswami | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON DEC 04, 2020 02:06 AM IST

It has been a week since farmers from across the country launched their protests against the Centre’s farm bills along Delhi’s borders, but none of these protest sites had a single Covid-19 testing camp as on Thursday.

The lone Covid-19 testing camp that was set up by the Delhi government at the Burari site on Saturday was also wrapped up in a day, farmers protesting at the site said. The sites at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders, on the other hand, haven’t seen any Covid-19 testing camps or medical vans for swab collection from day one.

Officials of the north district administration said the temporary camp at Burari’s designated protest site at the Sant Nirankari Samagam Ground had a medical team equipped with rapid antigen kits on Saturday.

“But the antigen kits were not replenished at the site the next day. The facility was a voluntary one and found very few takers. Only around 40 tests were conducted on Day One at the Burari site using the antigen kits, but no farmer was found to be positive,” said a senior official of the north district administration, which is overseeing all the arrangements at Burari.

While the Delhi government has built a mega tent covering around 4 lakh square feet of the ground with the capacity of sheltering over 50,000 protesters, only around 200 farmers were seen using the shelter on Thursday. The city administration has provided toilet and water facilities as well.

Binder Singh, one of the many leaders of the ongoing protests and who was present at the Burari site, said that they have been demanding that the city administration administers Covid-19 tests for the agitators.

“A wrong perception is being built that farmers do not want to get tested. But, what does one do when there is no access to Covid tests at all,” he said.

At the protest site along the Singhu border, at least 4-5 health camps set up by private organisations — including those by NGOs, doctors’ association, religious committees and sometimes even political parties — could be spotted. But none of them had Covid-19 testing facility in them.

“We are getting 2-3 farmers almost every day who have flu-like symptoms. Still, all we can do is suggest that they get tested for Covid at a government facility or at a private laboratory. But, most of them never leave the site. We can only hope that no one turns out to be a super spreader and that too will remain unknown because there is absolutely no Covid-19 testing happening here,” said Dr Harjit Singh Bhatti of the Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum, which has set up a health kiosk at Singhu border.

He said the health camps set up privately at the protest sites cannot offer Covid-19 testing because of the national guidelines. “One has to be formally registered with the ICMR and the city administration to offer Covid-19 testing. We have been urging the government to set up Covid-19 testing camps at Singhu border and Ghazipur, but nothing has happened yet,” Bhatti said.

When asked, revenue minister Kailash Gahlot said he had discussed the matter with the district administration (north) and asked them to make the necessary arrangements.

“The directions, including setting up of tents at Singhu border, were issued two days ago. We shall follow-up if it has not been done yet,” he said.

At the protest sites, however, there are scores of farmers who are not following Covid-19 appropriate behaviour - be it wearing masks, maintaining social distancing or frequently sanitising their hands.

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