Weaker sections suffer as COVID paranoia goes berserk

SHILLONG: Having to put up with the COVID pandemic for over four months at a stretch seems to be taking its own toll in some parts of the state. Some of the recent social diktats foisted on the common man varying from plain paranoia to bordering tyrannical bear testimony to the paranoia that seems to have gripped the affected localities.
In different places people have bizarre experiences of the COVID paranoia.
Laitkor, for instance, became a containment zone last week. There are many people living in Laitkor but earning a living outside it. There are daily labourers who work in different parts of Shillong city. But they were told by the Dorbar Shnong that if they leave their homes and go out to work they will have to stay out of their homes and out of Laitkor (more specifically the areas around the road leading to DDK Shillong) for the entire duration of the containment period.
Some of these workers include drivers of private and commercial vehicles who appear to be caught between the proverbial devil and deep blue sea. They have been conveyed by their employers that they would lose their jobs if they stopped attending to their work for 14 days. But the Dorbar Shnong would brook no argument.
Then there is the case of a person who visited the government agriculture farm at Cleve Colony to buy saplings. He was most offended by the attitude of a certain farm employee there. While everyone is now aware of the physical distancing and mask protocol and are respecting those protocols, for some the fear has turned into an obsession.
So this staff of the agriculture farm kept telling people to keep their distance. She kept a distance of at least 5 metres from everyone and kept repeating that warning. She then kept the saplings too at a distance, and told people to pick it up themselves.
That was all fine visitors said except that her demeanour put them off completely. Clearly there is still so much that needs to be learned about the dos and don’ts vis-a-vis COVID.
The other issue of concern is the locking down of an entire shop just because one employee or the shop owner tests positive. Now that testing COVID positive seems to have become a common affair in the city, how many shops (grocery stores, pharmacies, cloth shops, sweetmeat shops and vegetable vendors) will have to stay closed? Where do people buy their essentials from?
In other areas of Shillong, there are reports of overzealous volunteers who have been enforcing official SOPs for Containment Zones on an absurd scale. People belonging to essential service categories like pharmacy employees are not allowed to move out of the locality for attending to their duties. And this despite having identity card and necessary papers. Then there were complaints from some milkmen who were stopped from collecting fodders for their cattle.
A shop owner in Laitumkhrah said, “It is not just the government that is concerned and is trying to contain the COVID virus. All of us are trying our best too so we cannot be seen as offenders and recipients of orders with no access to those who make decisions on our behalf. The order of things has to change.”
A pharmacy owner said, “We understand that behavioural change is tough and we are telling customers to keep their distance but we are still not sure who among those purchasing medicines will test COVID positive. If that person has visited the pharmacy, should the entire unit be shut down? These are issues that need to be debated,” he concluded.
Perhaps a more nuanced and informed implementation of all standard operating procedures (SOPs) is what is needed many feel. The problem is that of a lack of consultation with the stakeholders such as owners of grocery stores across the city who might have ideas. At the moment all orders flow from the Secretariat down to the people with no feedback system.
Commissioner and Secretary Health, Sampath Kumar, when pointed to these problems, said that micro management rather than containing entire localities is the way to better manage COVID.
He also added that it is important to get over the fear of contacting the virus. “The best way to fight COVID-19 is to assume that one has the infection and go about protecting oneself and build one’s immunity rather than getting alarmist and closing down entire localities, thereby putting the poorer segment of daily wage earners at risk of their livelihoods.

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