A 25-year-old doctor on COVID -19 duty drove into a containment zone in Kerala's capital Thiruvananthapuram on Friday and reached the Community Health Centre, to be assigned her team and begin her day's duty.
Soon, they left for a health centre nearby, where they were supposed to wear their PPE kits and collect swabs. Still in the car, they found the centre's gate locked. But within minutes, they were surrounded by a mob of around 50 people.
The doctor said their team did not know of any ongoing protests in the area at that time.
The young doctor was along with her team of two staff nurses and a technician in the car.
"There were people all around our car. People were agitated, shouting and abusing. I told the driver not to roll down the window under any circumstances. People were banging the windows," the doctor, who completed her MBBS this year, told NDTV.
The incident took place in one of the clusters in Kerala where the coronavirus cases are seeing a steep spike.
"Since the car could not move ahead and people were banging the windows vigorously at the driver's side, our driver rolled down the window in an attempt to coax them to let us go. One of the men stuck his head inside the car and coughed at us saying, 'If we have COVID, you should have it too'," the doctor recounts. "We were shocked at that," she said.
The doctor had begun her practice just 10 days ago. "Because of the pandemic, we have to do compulsory rural service," she said.
The doctor and the four other members of her team, including the driver, are now in quarantine because of what happened. They will be tested for coronavirus after seven days, and if negative, they will resume duty.
"One of the staff nurses in my team started crying in the car with all that was happening. It's the first time that I had teamed up with her, so I don't know much about her. But I do know that she has a one-year-old child. We somehow managed to leave that place. And, once I returned to the Community Health Centre, I alerted all authorities," the doctor told NDTV, hours later.
Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja and District Collector Navjot Khosa were among those who called the doctor on knowing about the incident. "They called me, spoke to me, calmed me down and assured me that they are with me. And that after my quarantine and test, I must return to that area for duty and that everyone is with us," she said.
The Health Minister condemned the attack on the medical team on Friday. "We have been doing very intensive tests in this area. It's a focus for health workers. They are working very sacrificially. Instead of supporting them, it's very scary to hear that a doctor's vehicle was attacked by people. If they are attacked, who will treat people? People can protest, but they cannot do so gathering in groups and that too without masks or social distancing. The situation is very dangerous," KK Shailaja told the media.
The minister said that the government is doing all it can to meet people's need including free ration and that more measures such as nutritional kits for children will be taken. She warned leaders against instigating people with disinformation, especially about antigen tests. "As numbers swelled suddenly, there were some issues that came to light. But we are addressing everything," Ms Shailaja said.
Friday had seen protests in this particular containment zone, with people gathering in large numbers, many without even masks. "There is no way we can justify what happened to the doctor and the medical team. I am ashamed of what happened and extremely sorry on behalf of those who did this. After all, the doctor and the team came to take care of us. However, it was at a time when people were very angry, upset, and protesting, that they arrived. People here were very angry at even me," the councillor of the area, told NDTV.
"People were angry and protesting because they were not getting provisions in the area. Some families could not even go out to buy essentials like milk for their children in between. Their family members, who had been taken to the facilities after testing positive, had called home earlier and said they did not get food to eat. But whatever, people cannot behave with medical teams like this. District officials came to this locality later during the day and addressed our issues," the councillor said.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that there were some people with political vested interest trying to provoke innocent locals. "There is an agenda behind this. And the leadership of the opposition in the state is part of this, according to the information we are getting," the Chief Minister said.
It is equally wrong to discriminate against or isolate our fellow citizens in Poonthura, mostly fisherfolk who braved their lives to save many during the 2018 Kerala floods. We need to support them in order to help them cope with the stress& pressure of the current situation.— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) July 11, 2020
Congress leader and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor condemned the incident and suggested certain steps to be taken to avoid alleged discrimination and isolation of people in that cluster.