Assam’s ongoing situation with tackling the novel coronavirus can be understood as a two-faced narrative. My account of experiences might be considered as a motive of backlash, but to those who might consider it that way, I shall say a thousand times that sharing ground reports and factual situations is not a taboo. Not anymore.
With emotional considerations in mind, the Centre had notified on April 29 that people stranded in different places due to the nationwide lockdown may be permitted to come back home with due diligence. But many local populations who have been always supportive of blind faiths, had strongly believed that it will be us (those coming from the different) that will bring in the symptoms of Covid-19 to Assam.
Many news articles, social media updates are floating in context to Assam’s efforts towards tackling the growing number of Covid-19 cases.
One can still glance through many posts on Facebook, numerous tweets, and a voluminous coverage of the remarkable services rendered by the Assam government in providing hospitality to the inward flocks of stranded Assamese people. Assam health minister and his stern disciple, i.e., the minister of state looking after affairs of health & family welfare, were making endless rounds in all the screening centres of Assam.
Post visit, based on their statements of work progress one is to surely believe that every bit of work aimed at bringing down the spread of the novel disease is well-governed and allocated works were delivered at par excellence.
Such statements do create an image of reputation, giving expectations of witnessing facilities and proceedings in an utmost professional manner. However, the ground reality stands somewhere very far and lagging behind that of what has been portrayed in the press briefings & social media posts.
I came wayfaring back to my State, crossing some 5– 6 states, and one can imagine quite well the journey and the distance covered by the group of over a 100 people by bus. With options of refreshments and restrooms being restricted to the highest degree, the travelers suffered from a multitude of issues of uneasiness, ranging from, swollen legs, lack of sleep & proper diet, all amounting a mental crisis of different scale.
Upon arrival at the State border check post of Srirampur, we underwent the first of the many traumatic series of events to come. All the details of incoming passengers were recorded which took not less than two hours. Under the scorching heat, no arrangements were made for the poor souls who were kept waiting till an escort vehicle showed up, indicating all vehicles en route to the Guwahati camp, located at Sarusajai Sports Complex.
Also, there were tussles between the local Civil Administration and the Police Authorities regarding dispatching the long line of incoming vehicles, which took some more quadrants of the clock. Few police personnel got down with a register and started noting down details of each vehicle and passengers being ferried.
Such practice of noting down the vehicle and passenger details were observed till the time people reached their designated health camps. This manual and time-consuming process would have been easily eradicated if the Assam government would have adopted some online database management systems, which would have been accessible by all sorts of permissible administrative hierarchies.
Whereas, at every district, the escort party changed the same process was in play adding a toll to the clock, resulting in the delay of reaching the destination.
Finally, when the group arrived at the Sarusajai Sports Complex, strong flocks of mosquitoes welcomed every breathing soul. Prior to entering the main complex area, details, as noted down by the police escorts earlier, were again enforced by the Guwahati Traffic Police, and again followed by the Black Uniformed Commandoes of Assam Police. The irony arises when two distinct units at the same spot seek the same sets of information.
Upon entering the main registration area, there was no clarity pertaining to the process of registering ourselves at the counter. Only after a lot of confusion, there came an announcement that those people who didn’t belong to the designated districts coming under the Guwahati Health Camp shall proceed to their respective Zonal Health Camps. Buses shall be arranged for the same.
Washrooms were in the best-depleted state possible forcing the people to stay away from using them. Water dispensing amenities were not found in the sprawling complex area, leaving all of us in a state of thirst & hunger.
Even though buses were arranged for the respective Zonal Health Camps, it was only after people boarded and settled in the bus; it was informed that the entire expense of the bus shall be borne by those travelling in it. 50% occupancy was to be maintained, and the total passengers are to contribute towards the entire amount if 50% occupancy is not fulfilled.
For instance, there were buses provided to Silchar and Jorhat in the morning. Those (city) buses which roam around the Guwahati City were provided for travelling to the other Zonal Camps. The entire bus fare for Silchar was Rs 30,000 (Thirty Thousand only), and for Jorhat it was Rs 20,000 (Twenty Thousand only).
If the individual fare for Jorhat is to be assessed, per head a charge of Rs 1,000 (One Thousand only) was levied if complete 50% occupancy is to be expected. One can easily avail the services of luxurious Volvo and Bharat Benz buses from Jorhat to Guwahati at that same fare, and with scheduled stops in between. Such guidelines regarding paying for availing the bus services were not at all shared, nor was it in any of the earlier briefings from designated authority.
Once boarded, it was strictly announced that there shall be no stops in between, even for emergencies. At one point, an argument was taking a toll with the police officer who came sharing his views about this. As mentioned earlier regarding the record of details, the same continued at every district the buses passed by.
Finally, upon reaching the Jorhat Health Camp, swab samples were taken by the medical team. It was clearly notified by the reception team that Swab results are usually out in 14 hours and can at most take 36 hours to obtain the outcomes. Based on these assurances, many people had opted for Hotel accommodations where one had to pay for their individual rooms, and the tariffs excluded charges of food and taxes.
It was expected that since one is opting for hotel facility instead of the institutional quarantine, one could surely expect a few fruits of luxury if not many. To our surprise, the facilities of hospitality seemed much better in the institutional quarantine camps than those experienced in the hotels.
The options of food were monotonic, there were no staffers to clean the corridors, nor was there a change in the linens. However, a complimentary toilet soap of Rs 5 was provided to the guests at the time of check-in.
The real adventure began when time started exceeding the 36-hours period. A slight state of panic ensued when the expected time of receiving the reports started to elapse. With the hope of getting results, 36 hours had passed and with that passed 3-4 days more.
The state helpline numbers were repeatedly dialed seeking for support and clarity in the delay. All efforts were in vain as the officials entertaining our calls had no clue where the reports were and by when the reports can be expected. At some point of time, there were heated statements exchanged from the helpline numbers. But we victims had to pay the hotel bill at the dawn of each new day.
Insider reports reveal that there is a huge lapse in coordinating the Swab tests. Often there is an administrative influence so as to preferentially advance samples of known associates. Also, it was witnessed that few VIPs who travelled from Metropolitans had been received with warm greetings by State government envoys and hospitality was top notch.
Their arrival though late than many of the commoners, yet managed to obtain results within a stretch of 48 hours and proceeded for their home quarantine with mush ease. Such activities also made headlines in the local news channels, but none had the nerve to report on the mismanagement in the entire process of handling the situation. Instances such as these are turning up as a common sight.
Other strange instances involve the discharge of a few group members travelling all the way in the same convenience, while the others still rot and wait for their results. Those staying in institutional quarantine have nothing to worry about, as they are well provided with all sorts of amenities.
Issues have started to grow up among those who have been in hotel for the past 5-6 days, yet results are awaited, forced to sleep in the same linen for all those days, no change in varieties of food, and lack of clarity and assurance from the administration regarding the expected time of getting the results.
It is also learned that those who went to the Silchar health camp are staying in Government-sponsored star hotels. These hotels are in fact the institutional quarantine centres, and in such case, it is indeed good for those incoming stranded people as amenities of hotels are available for free.
To understand the lapse in timely testing of the swab samples, the attached test report can be looked over. Clearly one can see that samples collected on the 11th are undergoing testing on 14th. Not only this single report, there shall be many such cases if it is to be investigated.