KOTTAYAM: Around 6.30 am on Thursday, Kottayam District Collector PK Sudheer Babu suddenly was woken up from deep sleep by the incessant ringing of the mobile phone. He had a late night. It was a state cabinet minister on the other end who wanted him to check his WhatsApp.
The minister had forwarded him the Facebook post of an expatriate woman, who had described the ordeal of her 62-year-old mother, undergoing institutional quarantine in Kottayam on her return from Abu Dhabi.
The FB post had elaborated on the "ill-treatment" meted out to her mother, right from the time of boarding the special flight operated as part of 'Vande Bharat' mission, to her bad experiences at the quarantine centre arranged by the Kottayam district administration.
The woman complained that no one had helped her mother pick her luggage at Kochi airport and had not even provided a SIM card.
Above all, she was not given a quarantine centre near her house, but put up in a building which is around 37 km from her house, without even a fit-for-use bathroom.
Since the FB post didn't mention any names, it took nearly two hours for the collector to identify the Abu Dhabi returnee.
Interestingly, the collector found that the woman was given accommodation at a brand new working women's hostel building, which has not been opened for its original purpose so far.
Anyhow, the collector enquired about her grievances and the minister himself spoke to her over
the phone. Finally, her complaints were redressed after the local village officer brought for her a hot water flask from his home.
This was not an isolated incident. The huge influx of expatriates from various countries and Keralites from other states have put the government officials, especially senior officers in various departments, in a spot.
With nearly 80,000 people returning to Kerala from COVID-hit countries and other states within two weeks, officials are struggling hard to handle the situation and ensure all are quarantined either in their respective homes or in government's isolation centres. As the number of returnees is increasing day by day, the situation is likely to worsen in the coming days.
"Without realising the real situation, returnees demand more facilities, as if senior government officials and employees are staffers of a hospitality sector. The officers are forced to address their silly demands of candles, soaps and combs for fear of rebuke from higher-ups," said a top official on condition of
"Misconceptions about COVID-19 also play an important role in making situations difficult for officers. For instance, though people above the age of 75 are allowed to choose home quarantine, a 83 year-old woman and her 85-year-old husband had to opt for institutional quarantine only because the couple's grandson feared of a possible transmission of virus from them to his kids.
"In another incident, a man called me to complain that his 72-year-old mother was given accommodation in a building which doesn't have a lift. Another complainant said nobody had picked up her mother's luggage at the airport," said the officer.
Besides, complaints are galore over quarantine rule violations and local residents denying home quarantine options for returnees. In Kanjirappally, a foreign returned nurse had to face stiff resistance from a local body member to proceed to her own house.
The Mahatma Gandhi University registrar had to contact the district Collector with a complaint that some students from other states, who were quarantined at the university's hostel, are walking around the campus, violating quarantine rules.
In another incident, a few contract carriage buses dropped a few Bengaluru-returned students heading for various districts in Pala who wanted transportation facilities to go to their houses.
The same is the situation in other districts as well. As per the statistics of the government, 78,096 people have arrived in the state from various COVID-hit countries and other Indian states till Thursday.
Ensuring quarantine facilities for all and putting them under surveillance has become a tough task for the government. Any lapse or negligence from the part of the returnees will definitely destroy all achievements in managing the Covid-19 spread in the state.