‘Docs Are Giving Their Best, But Public Support Is Vital’

Dr Neeta Shrivastava, 37, a microbiologist in Mumbai, reveals how health workers keep tough schedule at work and then also manage household chores in the absence of house helps

I am a clinical microbiologist. Which means I handle the team that interprets the details of swab samples from the testing lab to determine whether a person has been infected by Coronavirus or not. A team from the authorised testing labs is present in various hospitals and collects the swab samples of suspect cases.

Our team has been divided into two batches and we have been asked to report to work only on alternate days. This is to ensure that if even a single staff member gets affected, it doesn’t spread to the entire team. These are crucial times and we cannot take any chances.

ALSO READ: ‘Locked Inside, We Are Going Nuts’

Currently, there are only two government and six private labs in Mumbai doing the testing. Every day many people come but not everyone can be tested. It is only recently that Coronavirus test kits became available but as the cases spike we are on the verge of facing a shortage of test kits again.

We collect nearly 20 samples everyday, which are then sent to a lab. It is a time-consuming and a delicate process. Plus, a dangerous one too. We have to be very careful while handling samples. We have to wear PPEs (Personal Protection Equipment) all the time. Our team collects samples through nasopharyngeal swab that goes up the nose far back into the throat and collects mucous, saliva, and bits of cells.

ALSO READ: ‘Life In Quarantine Was Horrible’

The number of Coronavirus cases in Maharashtra has crossed 300-mark (as on April 1) and Mumbai units are handling a major portion of those cases. The doctors here have been giving their best, just like in any part of the world. Dr Rajesh Tope is leading the charge in Mumbai and we have been able to hold fort pretty well in the metropolis. However, it would be helpful if the citizens started listening to an acting upon the guidelines too.

We as frontline workers are scared for ourselves and our families because here is a disease that even the medical fraternity has little clue about. But doctors know how to keep ourselves calm under pressure situations. And the public on its party must understand the urgency and cooperate.

ALSO READ: Pranaam, Corona – Keeping The Virus Away

I have two kids, aged 1 and 7. It is difficult to manage work and home. Plus with the changing guidelines everyday that come from ICMR, WHO etc, means we get very little time to adapt to new situations. People with travel histories to foreign countries should be proactive in getting tested or at least letting the authorities know. Many doctors do back-breaking work at hospitals and then go back home for daily chores too, because the house helps have stopped coming. The medical staff needs to be well-protected and well-supported.

Many heart-breaking videos of doctors not being able to hug their children have been doing the rounds, but I find it difficult to keep away from my one year old girl. She needs me. I make sure I take a thorough bath after I return from the hospital, then I wash everything that I took to work with hot water, and it is only then that I touch my daughter. It is difficult but we will see through this.  My 7-year old understands what is going on and cooperates better than many grown-ups.

Nirala Greenshire

‘Locked Inside For A Week, We Are Going Nuts’

After two positive cases of Covid-19 were found in his housing society, Nirala Greenshire, Greater Noida, Rupesh Kumar along with 1,000 residents have been living in quarantine since March 22

On the evening of March 22, two of the residents in our society were tested positive of Covid-19. One of them had returned from Denmark a few days back and was staying with his family. He and his mother were tested positive and since then all seven of his family members were put into home quarantine.

All senior officials from city administration, police and health department are camping the society since then. And realizing that the two patients must have come into contact with other residents too, the entire society has been put under a lockdown.

We have been asked to stay indoors and avoid physical contact with anyone. This is nothing short of being quarantine for us. Since then, scores of Aganwadi workers have stormed into the apartments wearing masks and carrying sanitizers and thermometers. Those were the only outside contact with us since last two days. We are anxiously listening to the announcement from our balconies and we can do nothing at all.

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The administration said they will sanitize the entire apartment blocks and test each and every suspect to confirm any chances of community spread of Coronavirus pandemic. Our rations are drying, milk is not available, and we are missing simple things like our morning cuppa. Private security guards of the society are helping us with groceries and other daily needs but it’s too little but most of them time half of the stuff we order does not reach us due to short supply.

There are over 1,000 residents in this society and very few security guards so it’s not possible for them to meet everyone’s demand. We are surviving on bare minimum. Since no maids are allowed, we have to clean our flats on our own, cook and wash dishes. We are wearing masks throughout the day till we go to bed. It’s a horrible thing to be put in quarantine like this.

ALSO READ: How Finland Is Coping With Covid-19

We know the gravity of the situation and we are cooperating with the administration but it just happened all too suddenly and we were not ready for this. Since no outsider can enter the society, the milkmen are also not allowed. Those who have small children are totally dependent on security guards who are making sorties on their two wheelers and cycles to buy for those in need. It’s like we are living a bad dream. We don’t know who is contaminated. The fear of catching the disease has made us behave strangely.

The District Magistrate and the Commissioner of Police have asked us to be patient. What else can we do? We are hoping to get out of this situation soon. People are getting anxious. Some residents had verbal spat with cops when they went down without permission. We can only speak to the officers from our balconies.

We have requested the administration to complete the process as soon as possible but we know with such large number of people living in such small area, it’s hard for them too. This incident gives us a lesson to be prepared.

LokMarg team spoke to Rupesh Kumar from his balcony at a distance

‘Lockdown Is Fine, But How To Handle Panic Buyers’

Pankaj, a Delhi resident who went to a local market after Narendra Modi announced 21-day lockdown to combat Covid-19, rues the rush & panic buying at stores

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a 14-hour Janata Curfew, or self-imposed isolation to be observed on Sunday (March 22), people by and large complied. His other appeal to come out of homes at 5 pm and clap as a mark of respect for health workers, however, was followed with extraordinary gusto. People not only came out to clap but also banged utensils, played drums and danced in close proximity, throwing caution to the wind and defeating the real purpose of isolation. But we are like that only.

On Tuesday (March 24) therefore, when Modi announced that the country would go into a 21-day lockdown from midnight onward to combat Coronavirus, what else would you expect from the Delhi residents than flood the market, crowd the grocery stores, and stock up whatever you can lay your hands on? I too stepped out to buy some essentials, and also to watch the tamasha. I wasn’t disappointed on the latter.

WATCH: Are We Prepared For Coronavirus?

Tamasha is the right word to describe what I saw at our local market in Mayur Vihar. Buyers behaved as if the apocalypse was on us. Many youth grabbed as many cigarette packets as their pockets could allow; the family man rushed from vegetable store to ration shop and took home the bucketful of whatever was available; shopkeepers, instead of assuring the customers of enough supply, goaded them into buying large amounts. Even before Modi’s address was over, the entire stock of breads, buns, instant noodles, meat and grain in our local Mayur Vihar market had gone off the shelves. It was sad and funny at the same time.

The buyers were still not satisfied. Many of them made their way for small, unauthorized shops in nearby clusters to stock up more. These shops, run by relaxed locals who had never experienced frantic buying, were at loss of their wits by the onslaught. Unable to keep with the rush and shouts for various items from all corners, they shouted back at the customers. “Police aa jayegi. Ek ek kar ke bolo. Halla matt karo (Police will come, speak at your turn one after another. Don’t make a racket).” Worse was their money management. They fumbled for the right amount of change and repeatedly punched at calculators to get their calculations right. The impatient customers egged them on to make more mistakes.

Petrol pumps were not spared by some panicky vehicle owners. Sedans queued up as if they were going to leave Delhi without thinking that the lockdown was for the entire country. Either, there was no clarity in the PM speech about essential supplies or people hadn’t bothered to sit through the entire address. I received several calls from friends if liquor could be available in my area at this hour.

ALSO READ: ‘Living In Quarantine Was Aweful’

As I moved back to my house with one litre of cooking oil and some onions in my hand, I kept thinking how we are going to tackle the deadly virus and the lockdown if we cannot fight the hoard mentality. And at a larger psyche level, this also proved that even though people follow Modi’s commands as their leader, somewhere in their minds they have little trust in his crisis management ability.

‘RBI Failed As A Regulator In The Yes Bank Fiasco’

Abhishek Bharadwaj, a 28-year-old Chartered Accountant, says RBI may appear to be a saviour of Yes Bank but the debacle primarily happened under its watch

I work as a Chartered Accountant and I have been taught that it is always better to spread your finances/investments rather than keep all the eggs in one basket. I opened a bank account in Yes Bank only last year after a friend’s recommendation. However, being aware of the financial trends in the country I didn’t close down my accounts in other banks.

Now, even though the crisis is over, thank to RBI intervention, I have to admit that I had sleepless nights when I, around a fortnight ago, the news broke that RBI had imposed a moratorium on Yes Bank. We were anxious as we felt that it would extend for long. Mercifully, it was removed on March 18.

ALSO READ: ‘I Am Thankful To RBI And Govt’

Being an accounts professional, I promptly changed accounts to make payments as soon as I realised that the UPI (Unified Payment Interface) was creating problems. But I wonder about the others who were not so fortunate and were stuck with just one bank account. What if someone had an emergency in their homes? Back then, nobody knew when the matter would be sorted.

The RBI has strict guidelines and policies in place when it comes to the safety of the depositors’ money. However, the execution of these policies is getting lax with each passing day. More and more banks (and their owners) think they can get away with financial irregularities. So far (at least as far back as I can remember) it hasn’t happened that a bank went bankrupt. Banks facing losses and NPA (non-performing assets) are either merged or taken over, and the money of at least small investors is kept safe.

ALSO READ: Yes Bank Debacle & Crony Capitalism

It is commendable that the RBI directed many banks to help in the resuscitation of Yes Bank. Still I wonder what the authorities were doing since last year when rumours first started floating about Yes Bank. It is a failure on part of both the RBI as well as the government. Such things don’t happen in a day.

Back in 2016 when demonetisation had taken place, it was clear that banking decisions were not taken keeping all aspects in mind. I wasn’t in favour of it back then. Similarly, I feel even now it is the ordinary people who suffer (or at least start panicking) when it comes to decisions related to the banking sector. Every one might have a bank account these days, but not everyone is financially literate, so government should take care to soothe people in times of crisis.

Satabdi Gantait

‘I Am Thankful To RBI, Govt For Revival Of Yes Bank Ops’

Satabdi Gantait had her salary account and Fixed Deposit in Yes Bank. She recounts the initial panic and the relief after the bank resumed normal operations

I can’t tell you how relieved I am after knowing that Yes Bank is operational again, thanks to timely intervention by the RBI and Centre government. I have my salary account in Yes Bank and when the news of Yes Bank collapse came, about a fortnight ago, many of us didn’t know what to do. I also had Fixed Deposits (FD) in the bank so I was doubly worried as to what fate my savings has in store.

Given that it was the beginning of the month, I was supposed to make payments to several people as well. It was chaos. Thankfully, I had another account in a different bank but it is horrifying to think about those who had all their savings in Yes Bank.

ALSO READ: Yes Bank Debacle And Crony Capitalism

I myself had been following news about the economy and various banks on and off, but in these times when there is so much of information flowing in all the time, one doesn’t know whom to trust and whom not to. Also, many a times one isn’t completely aware of what a particular step from the government means. We are dependent on news channels to decode information for us.

Following the news of Yes Bank collapse, the UPI (an online payment interface) on my phone stopped functioning. I teach interior designing to students in Kolkata and fashion is an industry where large amount of money exchanges take place. So undoubtedly there was panic in our group.

Thankfully, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman came out and assured ordinary people depositors that their money was safe. That people didn’t need to panic and that the government was doing all it can to rectify the situation as quickly as possible. This was reassuring but we kept our fingers crossed. I wonder why we need to reach a situation like the Yes Bank one in the first place that ordinary people begin to panic!

ALSO READ: Centre Clears Plan To Salvage Yes Bank

I suffered during demonetisation as well and for a moment (at the beginning of the crisis around 15 days ago) I thought 2016 was going to play itself out once again in 2020.

I run an interior design firm and had to make and receive large amount of money. Both depositing and withdrawing money had become extremely difficult back then. Thankfully this time things are different.  I hope no more banks reach such a state, so that ordinary people don’t worry whether they will be able to withdraw and use their own hard-earned money.

‘Life In Quarantine Aboard An Egyptian Ship Was Awful’

Vanita Rengaraj, 64, was among 17 Indians who were stuck on a Cruise on the Nile when one of the passengers was diagnosed with Coronavirus. Rengaraj recalls her ordeal and the journey return home

I have taught History for 27 years at the NGM College in Pollachi, Coimbatore and it is my love for History that brought me to a close brush with coronavirus. Our 17-member group of senior citizens had left for Egypt on February 29 for a nearly week-long trip, with three nights booked on a cruise ship on the Nile called A Sara.

Things were fine and we were able to enjoy the pyramids, the dams, the temples and even our first day (March 4) on the ship. The following day, chaos and confusion took hold and everyone on the ship was scared because a person on the ship had tested positive of Covid-19, and the tally of affected cases kept increasing and reached 30 (total number of passengers on the ship was 120).

Our ship was in Luxor and by then other parts of Egypt had also started reporting Coronavirus cases. On March 6, Egyptian health officials including 10 doctors made their way to our ship. With my medical history of having various heart conditions (including pacemaker), hypertension, breathing problems, diabetes and thyroid, I was worried I would not have strong immunity and would be infected.

ALSO READ: Pranaam, Corona – Keeping The Virus Away

By March 7 all the tests had been done and only one Indian, a male engineer from Chennai, was seen as a suspect while all other in our lot tested negative for Coronavirus. But our ordeal didn’t end there. The kitchen on the ship had closed down; the dining hall was out of bound; and we were asked not to interact with each other. Due to age many of us were already taking in a lot of medicines and lack of good food (we were given only grilled chicken and rice) we were worried our immunity could go down even further. We were desperate to get out of the ship.

Things began to move only when the Egyptian media took up our case. It is then that my daughter Saranya sprang into action and contacted the Indian media, as well as the Indian and Egyptian embassies. We were moved from Luxor to the military hospital in Alexandria, nearly 500 miles away. From March 7 to March 12 we kept getting more and more worried about our fate. We had tested negative for coronavirus but were unable to leave for India. We were being asked to be in quarantine for 14 days. However, when we had already tested negative there was no point being quarantined in a country where the disease was spreading fast. Meanwhile, my daughter was making frantic calls to all embassies concerned.

Finally a solution was reached after the French and Indian government put pressure on Egyptian authorities. We were allowed to leave Alexandria. I took a flight from Luxor to Cairo, Cairo to Mumbai, and Mumbai to Hyderabad and finally from Hyderabad to Coimbatore and from there I came home to Pollachi via road. All in the span of one single day! Can you imagine how taxing four flights plus travelling by road would have been for a senior citizen in a single day?

WATCH: ‘Coronavirus Is Highly Infectious…’

I am thankful to the Indian embassy officials in Egypt who were very cooperative and calmed our fears. They came with us till the airport. I am also thankful to the flight crew who were attentive to even the smallest discomfort. We were crying while returning home. We would finally be able to see family and friends again. We finally reached India on the night of March 12.

I am still practicing social distance in my home in Pollachi and friends are scared to come and meet me though my husband and I have tested negative for coronavirus. However, I don’t mind. People should better be safe than be sorry. As of now, my work with the various NGOs and the schools for the underprivileged that I run in Tamil Nadu, have come to a halt.

I read about how many Indians are trapped in Italy and would request governments across the world to let those people who have tested negative go back home. We need the support of our families as well as need to support our families in times like these. Also, from now on I have decided to take travel advisories seriously. It is okay to lose money but we should always take care of our health first and foremost.