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