Health workers caused outrage yesterday by spraying a group of migrants with disinfectant, amid fears that a large-scale movement of people from cities to the countryside risked spreading the coronavirus.
Footage showed a group of migrant workers sitting on a street in Bareilly, a district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, as health officials in protective suits used hose pipes to douse them in disinfectant, prompting anger on social media.
Nitish Kumar, the top government official in the district, said health workers had been ordered to disinfect buses being used by the local authorities but in their zeal had also turned their hoses on migrant workers.
“I have asked for action to be taken against those responsible for this,” he said in a tweet.
The opposition Congress slammed the Uttar Pradesh government.
“Who is in-charge and how did the UP govt allow this to happen!?” asked senior Congress leader Jitin Prasada.
The former federal minister, said: “The mistreatment of these already persecuted migrants at the hands of government officials is despicable”.
Mohamed Afzal, a migrant, said, “About 50 of us were waiting for food and bus when some men in protective suits came and began spraying water on us. They claimed to be from the sanitisation team and were sanitising us. The children began crying and women were also shocked.”
According to sources, the team sprayed the group with a diluted mixture of sodium hypochlorite.
Sodium hypochlorite is the main ingredient of laundry bleach and is used extensively as bleaching agent in the textile, detergents, and paper and pulp industries.
It is also used as a disinfectant.
Afzal said after the spray, children complained of itching in eyes and some women developed rashes.
“The chemical had a strange smell. After this, most of us decided to continue our journey on foot and left Bareilly,” he said.
In other developments, Goa’s Directorate of Health Services (DHS) asked passengers who travelled on a Vistara flight from Mumbai to Goa on March 22, which had a Covid-19 positive patient, to report to health authorities immediately.
“One of the patients declared positive for coronavirus on March 29 at Goa Medical College has a travel history from New York to Mumbai and then by Vistara domestic flight UK861 from Mumbai to Goa on March 22,” a notice issued by DHS said.
“Hence, people currently in Goa who had travelled on the flight should immediately report to Helpline 104 or call 0832-24218100/2225538 or report to the nearest health centre,” the notice said.
The person who travelled on the flight is one of the five Covid-19 positive cases in Goa and had travelled to Goa from the Bahamas via New York.
In a statement, a Vistara spokesperson said: “We have provided all relevant information to the authorities for contact tracing. Staff who had operated the flight or had come in contact with the passengers have also been asked to self quarantine.”
In New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged social welfare organisations to support the government in its battle against the virus.
Interacting with representatives of social organisations through video link, Modi said the nation was facing an “unprecedented crisis and needs their service and resources like never before.”
These organisations, he said, could play a huge role in arranging basic necessities for the poor, and by dedicating their medical facilities and volunteers to serve patients and the needy.
The nation needed both short- and long-term vision to overcome the challenge, he said.
Observing that people have been seen gathering and flouting social distancing norms in the name of belief, Modi urged them to help counter superstitions, beliefs and misinformation.
The prime minister noted the nation was displaying immense resilience, grit and patience in facing the Covid-19 challenge.
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