MADURAI: Life during lockdown may be dreary, filled with fear, uncertainty and boredom. But for those who were under home quarantine, it has been an entirely different battle.
Take 45-year-old Arun* for instance. Arun, who lives in Vilangudi in Madurai, had gone to Oman at the end of February and returned on March 9. After clearing the thermal screening at the Chennai International Airport, he reached home and promptly isolated himself from the rest of the family.
“Though I did not have any symptoms and very few COVID-19 cases had been reported in Oman at that period, I was really nervous and distanced myself from my family members,” he said.
Still, distancing himself from his children (aged 16 and 11) and caring for his 75-year-old father proved a huge challenge.
“It was hard to make the children understand initially but they eventually got used to it. After the first 14 days, I started playing cards and board games with my family and helped my wife in the kitchen,” Arun shared. Arun is among the more fortunate persons to have endured home quarantine -- he has a three-bedroom apartment and isolated himself in one room. This would not be possible for those living in smaller houses or in joint families, he pointed out.
Kumar* from Sivakasi in Virudhunagar had a much harder time. The 33-year-old has a toddler and an infant to consider. Still, Kumar, who had returned from an official trip to South Africa, was fortunate in one aspect. “I did not have to worry about going out to buy groceries. My father-in-law lives nearby and helped with the shopping.”
But, what disturbed Kumar was the suspicious looks his wife and he got from their neighbours every time either of them went out to dispose of the garbage. “Those living next door would even call up to check whether I was showing any symptoms,” he said. On the other hand, the support from the health department, civic body workers and police department was most welcome. “They visit every morning to ask if we had the ‘kabasura kudineer’, a Siddha drug given by them. They frequently call up on the phone to check if we are feeling alright. I even got a video call from a senior health department official, which showed their dedication,” he said.
Forty-year-old Priya,* of Ponnagaram in Madurai, also sang the praises of the health workers. “Down with fever and wheezing, I was admitted at the government hospital for three days but the hospital workers who tended to me encouraged me throughout saying nothing was wrong with me and I would get well soon in no time,” she shared. Priya had sent her two children to live with their grandmother so she could isolate herself as advised by doctors. “It was a tough decision but I regret not quarantining my son to a separate room and using separate utensils for him sooner. He had viral fever and I apparently contracted it from him,” she said.
If Kumar’s neighbours made him fill uncomfortable, his experience was nothing compared to the stigmatisation of people from the Muslim community owing to rumours about the Tablighi Jamaat conference in New Delhi. Forty-two-year-old Anwar*, of Mahaboopalayam, attended the conference and was on the verge of breaking into tears while speaking to Express. “All this false propaganda has killed our souls. We are nothing but a walking corpse now,” he said.
A member of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), requesting anonymity, opined, “Even harmless procedures like police escorting the family members of participants to take COVID-19 tests create a stigma against Muslims in the neighbourhood. It is perceived as if they are being arrested for a crime. The government should be careful and more sensitive in such matters,” the SDPI member said.
Forty-five-year-old Fathima,* of Anna Nagar in Madurai, is also suffering. She was placed under home quarantined after going to a mosque visited by a COVID-19 patient who later died. She has been relying on the help of a 15-year-old Muslim girl, who lives in a nearby slum, to get groceries. “The girl is facing so much criticism from people in her slum. Seeing the health workers and police visiting our house frequently, they fear that we have already been affected by the coronavirus and tell the girl not to enter the slum after helping us. Some even went to the extent of saying that Muslims were the root cause for the spread of the virus,” Fathima lamented.
She said she found it embarrassing when health officials came in a van to collect blood and swab samples from her family. “The whole neighbourhood gathered in the streets to watch us. We felt really bad although we understand that it is for our well-being. But people misunderstand and believe we are infected,” she said.
Lapse in coordination
Both Arun and Kumar pointed out a lapse in coordination from local authorities, who reached out to them only a week after they came home. “As a result, they have calculated our quarantine period from a week later, forcing us to stay in quarantine for an extra week,” Kumar claimed. This one-week lapse may prove dangerous in cases of those who actually had symptoms, they opined. Meanwhile, Priya complained that even three days after being admitted at the government hospital, she was not informed of her COVID-19 test result. “I just had to assume that it turned out negative,” she said.
What to do if you have been home quarantined
“Maintain at least one-metre distance from your family members. In the case of children make sure they do not get depressed. Play indoor games like chess, snake and ladders or other board games engaging all family members. Elders can tell stories to children to help spend time in a quality manner,” said Deputy Director of Health Services (DDHS) Dr P Priya Raj.
“We also advise home quarantined persons to use separate towels. Utensils used by them should be washed well before being used by other family members,” she said.
“In case of economically disadvantaged persons or senior citizens who may not be able to follow social distancing, we house them in shelters established for this purpose,” she added.
* Names changed to protect identity