Indian health workers driven away by neighbours, landlords over COVID-19 scare


Indian doctors and health workers combating the coronavirus outbreak have been evicted from their homes due to fears that they may be infected and spread the disease to their neighbours.

Across the country, healthcare professionals described the growing stigma they are facing from their neighbours and landlords, resulting in many being refused taxis, barricaded from their own homes, or made homeless.

As the coronavirus pandemic has begun to fully take hold, with almost 1,250 reported cases, and the entire country of 1.3 billion people has been placed under the world’s largest lockdown, fear has gripped India, particularly because of concerns that population density and poor sanitation and healthcare provision could be disastrous for local transmission of the virus.

But while last Sunday evening, following a call by the prime minister, Narendra Modi, millions took to their balconies and terraces to applaud, bang pots and celebrate the healthcare workers who will be on the frontline of the outbreak, in day to day life, doctors, nurses and paramedics said they faced prejudice, ostracisation and eviction over fears they have come into contact with the virus.

One doctor who is overseeing a coronavirus rapid response team asked to remain anonymous to avoid trouble with the authorities, described how two fellow medics had requested to stay with him after their landlords had become increasingly hostile to them and asked them to leave their homes.

“Their landlords said that since they are working in hospitals, they will bring the infection home and spread it among others,” he said. “Many doctors around India have already complained about the same.”

He added: “Quite a few doctors have decided to spend the next few days in the restrooms of hospitals because they have lost their apartments or could not get into the apartments because of the hostility from the people of their community.”

One nurse, 38, working at a Kolkata hospital, described how her landlady turned up at her door two days ago and gave her and her two young children 24 hours to get out of the house she had lived in for seven years. The next morning, her landlady returned with two men and demanded the nurse leave immediately, even after it was explained she was not treating any coronavirus patients and had no symptoms.

“She would not listen to me,” said the nurse, who asked not to be named. “She told me, ‘There must be coronavirus patients around you in your hospital. We know that the virus floats in the air and infects everyone around. This is why thousands of people around the world have been infected. You have to leave the apartment’.”

The problem has become so bad that doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences recently wrote to the government pleading for assistance. “Many doctors are stranded on the roads with all their luggage, nowhere to go, across the country,” they said in the letter. In both Delhi and West Bengal, the government has now ordered action against anyone threatening to evict health care workers.

Daily life is getting increasingly challenging for anyone associated with the fight against coronavirus. Arghyadeep Ganguly, a junior doctor at Beleghata Infectious Disease hospital in Kolkata, described how seven taxi drivers refused to pick him up when they realised he was a doctor working in a so-called ‘coronavirus hospital’.

“Several of my senior doctors have been asked to vacate their rented rooms and other paying guest accommodations by their landlords who fear doctors will transmit the virus to them,” said Ganguly. “It seems that the people in the country have found yet another reason to ostracise and abuse its medical personnel who are at the frontline of this battle against COVID-19.” (Source: The Guardian)