‘Meating’ people’s cravings during Covid

As India entered the 21-day period of lockdown to curb the spread of Covid19, in Arunachal Pradesh two divergent developments took place.
The nationwide lockdown began on March 25 following the March 22 janata curfew announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But even before the prime minister’s announcement, the states of Nagaland and Mizoram had already decided to extend the curfew. The state government here had announced the continuation of the janata curfew from the evening of March 23 till March 31 which has since been extended.
With shop timings being regulated, the scramble for groceries began as people had a hard time sticking to social distancing measures. While the administration got strict with the implementation of the curfew, online delivery services swooped in to fulfill the shopping needs of residents of Capital Complex.
Doni Riba began his ‘Hungryji’ food delivery service in February of last year, filling in an area that Zomato specializes in. Having gained experience from Hungryji, he started flirting with the idea of a delivery service to cater to the town’s population.
While the development of the idea began in April last year, the Dukandada app was officially launched on March 10, just days before the country entered the lockdown period.
Since then, he and his team have been kept busy.

Doni Riba and his Dukandada team Pic sent by Doni

Doni Riba and his Dukandada team

Even before Dukandada though, 30-year-old Epie Jamoh had launched her online delivery service for Itanagar and its adjoining towns.
In January last year, U Tell Us was officially announced (think small-town Urban Clap). What started with a staff of 17, in one year’s time the company now has 37 employees providing various services including ambulances for hire.
Its CEO, Dhananjay Morang, said that since the lockdown began, they have seen a surge in orders.
“Earlier we used to get around 50 calls a day but now there are around 500 calls coming in daily,” Morang said.
Even though calls have increased, the relatively small staff means that they are able to fulfill only around 200-plus orders on a daily basis.
He said that the endorsement from chief minister Pema Khandu certainly played a role in bringing publicity to online services like U Tell Us and Dukandada.
The overwhelming response from the people meant that Riba had to close orders in the Dukandada app by 2 pm.
“We were getting around 300 orders at first but had to limit the number to ensure we are able to meet the demands,” said Riba.
In smaller towns where panic and rumours spread fast, Riba faced a unique problem when a number of his delivery staff stopped coming in to work.
“We had 15 delivery boys but most of them are not being allowed to leave their homes by their families,” he said.
Riba had to make rapid hirings to continue the service.
And while the businesses are doing well, they’ve had their own share of issues.
The services may have received the chief minister’s endorsement but on the ground, the constant stopping by police at checkpoints is hindering timely delivery.
Riba said that there seems to be a lack of coordination between the administration and the police.
“The police don’t seem to be aware of the administration’s orders regarding the lockdown,” he said, adding that things will get more confusing with the implementation of section 144 of the CrPc starting today.
The U Tell Us’ CEO is even more miffed with the police.
“In our meeting with the administration, we were told to ensure that the staff wears their uniform including the cap with the company logo. Even then the police stop us,” Morang said.
He alleged that recently two of the company’s female staff were stopped and ‘harassed’ by the cops.

Epie Jamoh of U Tell Us Pic from Facebook page

Epie Jamoh, the woman behind U Tell Us

Elsewhere in smaller towns and rural areas of the state, lockdown appears to have been better accepted.
In the Adi tribal areas, local residents began implementing the traditional lockdown system called ‘Pator/Motor’ a day before the national curfew.
In areas where the Galo people live, the villagers implemented the Ali-Ternam prohibiting the entry and exit of people into and from the villages two days after it begins.
In both cases, the lockdown begins with the reading of the liver of chickens- a ritual called haruspicy in Latin that was also practiced in ancient Rome and Greece- by a shaman.
These traditional lockdowns involve barricading villages with bamboo gates and the sacrificing of certain animals.
Ayem Modi, a local youth leader in Lower Dibang Valley district’s Dambuk town, and his friends have been taking turns on sentry duty since March 23.
“We have two teams of five people on roster guarding the gates,” he said.
The ancient pator ritual also involves the sacrificing of an animal- in this case, a dog -which is then hanged at the gates.
The fact that a dead dog was left to hang and rot in public space did not go down well with the district administration and the deputy commissioner had to issue an official order prohibiting it.
That has done little to deter villagers though.
“We don’t do this for celebrations. This ritual is done in times of calamities including epidemics that inflict animals,” Modi explained.
In Kamki village in West Siang district, no dogs were harmed but at least five chickens and one pig was sacrificed to keep the disease at bay.

Kamki Village Pic by Bomdo Kamki

The gate to Kamki village. (Pic by Bomdo Kamki)

Bomdo Kamki from the eponymous village had to cancel his plans to visit Itanagar when the Ali-Ternam was implemented. He is with 300 of his clansmen and women currently under the lockdown.
Both he and Modi said that these are not new to their tribes and that these traditions have been in place for generations. The belief is that the ritual keeps the bad spirits in abeyance and stops it from harming the villagers.
The ‘bad spirit’ in this case is the coronavirus.
As for their ration needs, the villages are better equipped considering that most families grow their own grains and vegetables. Many even keep chicken, pigs, and the bovine mithun which can feed the meaty desires.
“We only need to make sure that the supply of salt does not stop,” Kamki said.

Battling hassles, hate, & finding hope

Amidst the nationwide lockdown and in the aftermath of the news of the first positive case of the COVID-19 from a person residing in the Northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, a slew of concerns and questions began arising from healthcare workers and citizens alike.
A 31-year-old man was put in isolation at the zonal hospital in Lohit district’s headquarters of Tezu after he had tested positive for the disease. The man, a migrant manual labourer, had attended a religious event at Delhi’s Nizamuddin which has become an epicentre for the disease.
At least 28 people across Northeast India who had attended the Nizamuddin Markaz had tested positive for the novel coronavirus .
Apart from the first positive case from the state, six more people from the neighbouring Namsai district have tested negative. While the man and his family have been quarantined, he remains asymptomatic.
However, the work for healthcare workers and administrative and police officials is far from over.
PERENNIAL PPE PROBLEM
Dr Tumge Loyi, the media spokesperson for the State Task Force for COVID-19, said that apart from the shortage of Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs), there is also a shortage of staff in the field survey teams.
“Since one person has tested positive, we need to conduct contact tracing to find out who has come in contact with him,” he said, adding that logistical challenges outside of the state capital is another issue.
While a new consignment of PPEs has arrived that will be distributed across the state, it still remains a formidable task for doctors, nurses, and others.
One source said that the PPEs that arrived are not in sufficient numbers and more will be required.
Loyi said that one major issue is the absence of a testing facility in the state.
Samples of suspected cases are collected and sent to either the Regional Medical Research Centre in Dibrugarh or Gauhati Medical College in Assam.
Even collecting samples is another challenge as the state’s stock of Virus Transport Media (VTM), where cotton swab samples are collected and shipped, is limited. At last count, the total number of VTMs was at around 700.

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Dr Tumge Loyi of the State Task Force

Medical guidelines dictate that a person has to be tested at least twice and Loyi said that the man who tested positive has come in contact with at least 40 people.
If the samples of each of those 40 people are to be collected, 80 VTMs will be used for just that one case.
He and other health experts say that the priority should be on testing as many people as possible to control its spread by identifying and quarantining them.
Till recently, the Tomo Riba Institute of Health & Medical Sciences (TRIHMS) in Naharlagun near the state capital, Itanagar, had no ventilators in its intensive care unit. The TRIHMS has been assigned as a COVID-19 hospital and will exclusively deal with all cases related to the disease.
One senior doctor said that ventilators are for the final stages and that the government’s priority should be on preventing the spread of the virus.
A doctor in Namsai district on quarantine duty, who has been in close contact with the suspected cases who had travelled to Nizamuddin and others who came in contact with them, said that they have been working without PPEs.
“I just have my gloves and an N95 mask,” the doctor said.
A nurse on quarantine duty in Naharlagun said that “frontline health workers have not been provided with N95 masks either”.
With the news of the state’s first positive case, came the eventual stigmatisation.
Even before an official announcement was made by the state health department, the test result of the man had been leaked which revealed his identity.
Dr Raja Dodum of the State Task Force for COVID-19 said that this is a breach of patient privacy.
“How are the testing centres releasing this information without officially sending it to us first,” he said.
CONTROLLING VIRUS & HATE
While healthcare workers remain concerned about the spread of the virus and information, residents in and around the state capital began to panic over the pandemic spilling over from outside quarantine centres to their residential colonies.
On Thursday evening, at the entrance of Polo Colony in Naharlagun, residents engaged in a ‘lively’ conversation with the Additional District Magistrate (ADM) and Chief Estate Officer (CEO), Talo Potom, asking him to move those housed in the quarantine facility in their locality.
Fearing for their safety, the residents claimed that they are not safe if the people quarantined are not moved to a different location.
“Our water supply comes from near the quarantine centre…what if they contaminate it,” said one man in the crowd, his mask doing little to hide his anger.
Potom had to eventually assure them that they will be moved to another centre.
Across the state, at the gates of residential colonies in urban centres and villages, barricades have been placed by good-intentioned people but in the process, disrupting the entry of government inspecting groups including doctors in some cases.
The issue has such a hindrance that the Itanagar deputy commissioner had to issue an official order asking them to dismantle and allow the movement of essential services or regulate their movement.
Rumours about the disease and how it spreads have caused panic and led to fears amongst sections of the public. While some landlords have exempted their tenants from a month’s rent, many who continue to work are reportedly being subjected to suspicion.
President of the state chapter of the Indian Medical Association, Dr Lobsang Tsetim, said that several healthcare workers are being told by landlords and neighbours to not venture out to work.
Many have allegedly even asked nurses staying in rented accommodations to vacate their apartments.
PETTING PROBLEM
As people turn on each other and hostilities begin to surface, pets and stray animals have become unlikely victims as a result of the pandemic.
With the lockdown changing people’s consumption patterns, stray animals that often-scavenged food that was thrown out as garbage are finding it difficult to scrape by. The problem was noticed by a number of young animal-lovers who have since mobilised and taken it upon themselves that the furry four-legged friends do not go hungry.
Kobyum Zirdo has been on a daily round covering at least 60 km of the capital and its adjacent areas looking for strays for almost a week.
Tending to a puppy outside of a privately-run veterinary clinic, Zirdo said that some pet owners are abandoning their dogs if they appear to show signs of illness.
On Friday afternoon, she picked up the puppy with a collar around its neck that had developed a form of a severe rash.
She said that because treatment is difficult during the lockdown period, she’s had to euthanize four dogs in five days.
Not an easy task for someone who has over a dozen cats and dogs at home.

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Kobyum Zirdo and others like her are on a mission to ensure stray animals stay safe during the Covid crisis