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Vol. XXX No. 7, August 1-15, 2020

Is barricading houses with Covid patients a safe solution?

by The Editor

Board ‘em up!

A barricade put up by the Corporation.

Historically there have been many ways of isolating patients with infectious diseases. The ill can be removed to a place where they cannot infect others. If they are treated at home, then the residence itself can carry a warning sign – a method that has been in place since the time of the plagues. The most disturbing however, and even traumatic for those living in such houses, is the prospect of being barricaded in. And yet, this is precisely what the city’s civic body is doing, and this is now being copied by other cities too.

The modus operandi, so we learn, is that the moment a test detects someone as Covid positive, their address details are shared by the laboratory itself with the Corporation. Whereupon, representatives of the civic body arrive and put up corrugated metal sheet barricades all around the residence. If it is an independent house, the family of the infected person stays in; and if it is a multi-storeyed building, then everyone else in the block also stay at home. Flex banners are then hung out on the corrugated sheets, informing all passers-by and vendors that the house contains infected people.

All very well thus far. But it is in the design of those barricades that there is much to object to. Rather in the manner in which the great Moghul is said to have buried alive a courtesan who was in love with his son, these sheets are nailed close all around the house, leaving a small opening for entry and exit. This presumably is for the health workers to come in and take a look at how the patient is recovering. But beyond that, it effectively makes a prison out of the whole building.

Now, a residence or a block of flats may be faced with situations when mass evacuation is needed. What happens if there is a fire for instance? How can all residents rush out to safety if the gates are as wide as the proverbial eye of the needle? What if a person has a fracture and has to be removed in a stretcher or needs an ambulance to be brought to the doorstep? There could be an earthquake – such a happening though rare is not unknown in the city. After all, Covid is not the only problem that people may face. And even among those infected with Covid, there are instances where doctors ask for the patient to be sent out for scans. How is this to be achieved? And in which medical or administrative journal is it mandated that Covid patients need to be isolated behind corrugated sheets? Of course, given the general indiscipline that is rampant in our city, the Corporation may have come up with this measure out of desperation in its attempts to isolate the infected. Even then, some other form of surveillance, especially in these technologically evolved times may have been far better. It is also reliably learnt that while the fixing of the barricades is quite prompt, the removal is not such a fast process and involves repeated reminders.

Chennai citizens appear to be a patient lot and tolerate this kind of hemming in. On the other hand, there have been protests in Bengaluru over this boarding up and the civic body there was forced to not only remove such barricades but also issue an apology. It is high time the Corporation of Chennai comes up with a more evolved solution in keeping with the city’s image of being a technological capital. Such tactics as barricading belong to the middle ages.

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