Covid-19 update: Front-line health staff battle attacks

Across India, front-line health workers and doctors are battling attacks by local residents, complicating the already uphill battle against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) that has infected at least 2,500 people.
Residents of Taat Patti Bakhal apologize to a team of doctors a day after health workers were attacked by some locals who went there to screen residents in wake of COVID 19 pandemic, in Indore.(PTI)
Residents of Taat Patti Bakhal apologize to a team of doctors a day after health workers were attacked by some locals who went there to screen residents in wake of COVID 19 pandemic, in Indore.(PTI)
Updated on Apr 03, 2020 04:28 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Bengaluru/Bhopal | ByVenkatesha Babu and Ranjan

For five years, Krishnaveni has been going door-to-door in north Bengaluru’s cramped Sadiq Palya area, collecting information, spreading awareness about Malaria and Cholera, and helping the low income neighbourhood access community health care.

An Accredited Social Health Activist or Asha worker in her forties, Krishnaveni was well known to many local residents but her painstakingly developed ties to the local community came undone on Wednesday evening when she and her colleagues were assaulted by a group of young men. The reason: They were going to every home, asking if something was coughing or had fever – some of the most-common symptoms of Covid-19.

“They heckled us, snatched our belongings and we couldn’t call anybody. We are here for their health and look how they treat us,” she fumed, after city police rescued the group of health workers. Taken aback, the Asha workers have now vowed to never go back to the neighbourhood without police protection.

They aren’t the only one. Across India, front-line health workers and doctors are battling attacks by local residents, complicating the already uphill battle against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) that has infected at least 2,500 people. The central and state governments have praised health workers and appealed to the citizenry to help them, but to little effect.

“The doctors are doing humantarian work under difficult circumstances and they need the state’s support. Without them, we will not be able to contain Covid-19,” said KK Aggarwal, head of medical associations of Asia and Oceania, calling for enhanced security.

Many of the attacks have been reported while health workers are out collecting samples or spreading awareness. Experts blame panic, misinformation and deliberately planned rumours as having fuelled the assaults.

In Indore city’s Tatt Patti Bakhal area on Wednesday, two women doctors were surrounded by a hostile mob while combing the area for people with Covid-19.

A police official said the mob started gathering when the doctors asked an elderly local woman, who was suspected to have come in contact with a Covid-19 patient, to accompany the medical team to a hospital for tests. Television visuals showed the 100-strong mob chasing the doctors and hurling stones at them.

“We have been visiting the locality for the past three days for the screening of residents. We had information about a person coming in contact with a Covid-19 patient…We were talking to the person (the elderly woman) when, all of a sudden, residents got agitated and attacked us,” said one of the doctors on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns.

State police arrested seven people on Thursday and Chhatripura police station incharge Karni Singh Shaktawat said the accused were identified on the basis of a video clip and they have been booked for rioting, endangering the lives of public servants, and disobeying government orders. “At least three of the accused arrested have criminal record. A manhunt has been launched for arrest of 15 other accused,” he added.

The state government also vowed strong action against the assaulters. “I have directed police to provide adequate security to health workers and have asked them to take strict action against those who harass health workers,” chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said.

But reports of similar attacks kept pouring in from different parts of the country.

In Bihar, police and medical personnel were attacked by some residents of Munger town when they tried to collect samples. Stones were hurled at the quick response team (QRT), comprising policemen and an ambulance carrying medical personnel, when they visited the Hazratganj locality late on Wednesday, said the station house officer of Qasim Bazar, Shailesh Kumar.No one has been arrested.

In Hyderabad, relatives of a 49-year-old coronavirus patient who died at a government hospital assaulted the doctor and the staff on duty, alleging negligence. Telangana director general of police M Mahendar Reddy promised strong action against the culprits.

In Maharashtra, a group of local villagers assaulted a 56-year-old man in Solapur district for informing a village official about those who attended the Tablighi Jamaat gathering in Delhi, which has emerged as the country’s biggest Covid-19 hot spot . The man had informed the gramsevak of Pimpri village about seven residents who attended the Tablighi meet and also insisted that they be tested for coronavirus, police said.

In West Bengal, police clashed with locals in the north 24 parganas district after residents prevented health workers from collecting Covid-19 data. Seven persons were also injured when police tried to enforce the lockdown in North 24 Parganas district on Wednesday. “This is not the time to play carrom or chitchat with your friends at street corners. These can wait. If you do not adhere to social distancing, the consequences can be severe,” chief minister Mamata Banerjee said on Thursday afternoon.

(With inputs from HT Correspondents in Kolkata, Hyderabad and Patna)

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