In the shadow of a Covid Care Centre in Narela, local residents live in fear
Residents of Arayavrat Apartment in Sector G-2, Narela, led an isolated life, calling the area where they live a ‘ghost town’. Then, in-mid March, the Delhi Government set up a quarantine centre, one of the largest such facilities in the country, in their vicinity. Now they live in the mortal fear of catching Covid-19Updated: Apr 30, 2020 11:40 IST
Pratap Chauhan always called the area where he lives a ghost town. Every evening, as he stood on the terrace of his fourth-floor flat with his wife and daughter, all he saw were rows and rows of empty and dark apartment buildings without a soul in sight; a scene, he says, that depressed him.
But in mid- March, those buildings began to shimmer to life over the span of a few days. Then, he began to see people on the balconies of those buildings. But, ironically, the brightly lit buildings and people, instead of lifting his mood, left him feeling anxious. For the buildings were part of a Covid-19 Care Centre in Narela , one of the largest quarantine facilities in the country, where hundreds of people, including those who attended a Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Nizamuddin in March and tested positive, have been quarantined in the past one and a half month.
The city has seven Covid Care Centres and, as on Wednesday, according to the Delhi State Health Bulletin, the facility in Narela housed 473 of 985 Covid-19 patients admitted in these centres. The army took over the daytime management of the Narela quarantine centre on April 16, while the Delhi government’s health department manages it at night.
“Earlier, we were the only ones in this uninhabited urban jungle. Now we have company. But I am worried. While I have heard that the virus does not travel through air, you never know in the case of a new virus. Everyone in our apartment is living in fear,” Chauhan says.
Till a month ago, the terrace of his apartment was where Chauhan went every evening with his family to overcome the claustrophobia of his cramped flat. But now he is wary of going there. “I can see the quarantined people on the roofs and balconies, and hear announcements on loudspeakers asking them to go inside. That makes me fearful,” he says.
Chauhan is a resident of Arayavrat Apartment in Sector G-2, Narela, a sprawling complex of 2,156 LIG (low-income group) flats spread over an area of 4.71 hectares. The residents have, for the past five years, led an isolated life with little access to transport or social infrastructure.
All Delhi Development Authority (DDA) flats around Chauhan’s complex are still empty. The DDA has so far offered 4,600-odd flats in Narela’s Sector G6 to the Delhi government to run the quarantine facility. Currently, about 1,000-odd flats are in use in different towers.
Residents of Arayavrat Apartment say the area which not so long ago had the silence of a graveyard, suddenly began to buzz with activity –several white tents of security personnel came up; and all variety of vehicles from ambulances, police vans, cars and buses started speeding past their gate, often with sirens blaring.
“Earlier, a creepy silence permeated the area, which had now been replaced by the horns and sirens of police vans and ambulances,” Ravi Chandra, another resident, says.
Chandra can see the quarantine centre from his kitchen window, on the other side of an open field, about 300 metres away. “I liked the fresh air coming through the window every morning as I made tea. But now I keep all doors and windows shut and we prefer to wear masks even inside homes,” says Chandra, who lives with his wife and son.
But the DDA said residents have little to fear. “The distance between the boundary walls of the quarantine facility and the nearest housing society may be 300 metres, but the main entries of the quarantine facility and the nearest residential complex is more than a kilometre from each other,” says Rajiv Gandhi, commissioner (housing) DDA.
Shekhar Gaur, the guard of Arayavrat Apartment, says that his wife has been pressuring him to find another job, away from the quarantine centre. “But I remind her of doctors and other health care workers posted right inside the quarantine centre and doing their duty,” Gaur says.
Initially, when the empty DDA flats were declared a quarantine centre, Gaur says he had a tough time telling vehicle drivers that the apartment complex was not a quarantine centre. “The area was new to most people and some of them confused our building for the quarantine centre. Now I keep the gates closed at all times,” Gaur says.
Currently, about 400 families live in Arayavrat Apartment. “Some families left and some sent their children to relatives, fearing they might contract the virus,” says Dimple Rani, who lives with her husband and two children. “I am scared of letting my children stand even on the balconies now,” she says.
Chauhan says what also instilled fear among the residents was the news that two of quarantined people at the centre tried to run away, though they were later caught. “We got worried what if someone ran away from there and entered our apartments,” he says.
Dheerendra Rai, who lives with his father, says he regrets the fact that no one from any government agency has met them or tried to allay their fears. “They should at least undertake the sanitisation of the entire area on a regular basis, it was done only once, ” says Rai. “Earlier, all of us fervently wished that buildings in our vicinity were occupied; that we all got some social life. But I am not sure if this was what we bargained for.”
“Such areas are closely monitored in adherence to guidelines issued by the Union health ministry. Other than that, teams from the subdivisional magistrate’s office periodically talk to community leaders and residents’ welfare body members to minimise their concerns regarding transmission as long as the stay indoors and follow social distancing norms,” a senior official from the district administration, on condition of anonymity, said.
Chauhan says that there are also some positive aspects of having a quarantine centre in the vicinity. “Every other day, we used to hear about thefts and robbery, but not any more. The heavy security in the area keeps us safe from criminals, though I am not sure if we are safe from the coronavirus,” he says.
Professor Jugal Kishore, head, community medicine, Vardhman Mahavir Medical College & Safdarjung Hospital, says that the virus cannot travel through the air for more than one metre and anyone living in the vicinity of a quarantine centre need not worry. “Three hundred metres is quite a long distance. What the apartment people need to do is maintain general hygiene, and they should ensure no one spits in the open, ” he says, adding, “ Spraying the walls does not help; it is better to keep your doors, handles, lift button sanitised. ”
The area in a 500m radius of the quarantine centre has been turned into a buffer zone, a senior medical officer in the north Delhi revenue district said. The buffer zone , the official said, is treated like a semi-containment zone with high surveillance, restricted movement of individuals and vehicles and staggered timings for shops selling essentials.
A senior Delhi government official said, “All standard operating procedures have been followed at the facility. Residential areas are far off from the facility. People don’t have to worry”.