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Sandeep Sahu

By Sandeep Sahu

The 9.36 minute long audio clip that has gone viral on social media, especially on WhatsApp, over the last five days has let the cat out of the bag. Of course, the veracity of the conversation between two purported friends is yet to be verified. But in acting vengefully and going to the extent of lodging an FIR against OTV for running it on its social media platform, instead of verifying the authenticity of the clip and going after those who made it viral, the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) has unwittingly managed to lend it an air of credibility it perhaps wouldn’t have had otherwise.

To the lakhs of people who have heard the clip, what is said in it rings true and sounds eminently believable because it corroborates reports emerging from the ground: that far from wanting to keep the Covid positive cases down, the state government is actually keen that the +ve numbers – and with it, the recovery numbers - go up!! And health and municipal/panchayat officials on the ground readily admit being ‘under pressure’ from district administrations to send more and more people to the stand alone Covid hospitals set up by the government, primarily in collaboration with private hospitals or the Covid care centres. Sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? But a host of cases from the ground personally verified by this columnist suggest this precisely is the case.

In one such case, a pregnant woman had gone to the KIIMS hospital for a routine check-up. As is the practice today, she was advised to undergo a Covid test. She got her test done at the SUM hospital and tested positive. Once the woman tested positive, other members of the family too were tested for Covid. But mercifully, all others tested negative. Wondering how she alone, who had not gone out for weeks, tested positive while other members did not, her husband wanted a second test done on his wife to be sure. He used his contacts and a team from the Capital Hospital came and collected her swab sample the next day. Wonder of wonders! She tested negative this time!! The man – and his wife – heaved a huge sigh of relief thinking their worst fears had been proven wrong. But they had not reckoned with the tenacity of the BMC mandarins, who descended on their home to take her to the Covid care centre. The man tried to reason with the BMC official and showed him the negative test report issued by Capital Hospital. But the officer would have none of it. “We are not bothered if you test negative 10 times. Once you have tested positive, you have to move to the care centre,” said the officer. The man – and his wife – had no option but to throw in the towel and oblige!

In another case, a family that had returned from Punjab duly registered itself on the state government portal and stayed in home quarantine for 14 days as required under the rules. In fact, the family came out only after 19 days, five days after the prescribed quarantine period ended. But the day after they came out, a BMC team came and collected swab samples of all four members of the family. They were told all four of them had tested positive and were shifted to the Covid care centre. But wonder of wonders again! They were told they had recovered and allowed to go back home after just four days of being admitted there! And that without conducting any further Covid test on any of them to make sure they had actually ‘recovered’!!

This is the scariest part. People admitted to Covid care homes and Covid hospitals are being released on the whims of doctors – sometimes as early as three, four days after admission - without any further tests while the guidelines require two negative tests to be done within a span of 24 hours before someone is released. Microbiologists say the dangers of allowing someone who has already tested positive to roam free after a few days – or even a week – without a further test can hardly be underestimated. No discharge certificates are issued at the time of release from the hospital, several people who have come out of Covid hospitals have told this columnist. No one is given a positive report either. All they have by way of ‘proof’ that they are Covid positive is a phone call/SMS informing them as such!! Even when someone requests for a test and a discharge certificate, the request is casually brushed aside. Since the overwhelming majority of those testing positive, as per the government’s own claim, are asymptomatic (and symptoms often take more than a week to show up), the risks of such ‘recovered’ patients spreading the virus are immense. Those who know the ground realities say that is precisely what has happened in Ganjam district, one of the hotpots in the whole country.

Those released say the ‘treatment’ offered at the hospital is routine stuff: cough syrup for someone with cough, paracetamol for those with fever and just Vitamin tablets for those without any symptom. So, why are they admitted to the Covid hospitals/care centres in the first place? That is where the question of numbers comes up. Since the state government is committed to bearing all the expenses on the treatment of Corona patients, officials are keen that more and more people get admitted to Covid hospitals/care centres! (No prizes for guessing why!!). The amount actually spent on their ‘treatment’ is only a minuscule percentage of the amount shown as spent on paper! And since no tests are to be done while releasing someone, the recovery numbers go up considerably, allowing the government to claim the bragging rights about how effectively it is fighting the virus!

The system put in place is a win-win situation for all concerned and keeps everyone happy. The patient is happy that he is ‘cured’ of the dreaded disease and has got free government hospitality (by all accounts the food is good) for a few days. The officials and hospital authorities are happy that they get to share the booty. And the government is happy that the system gives it an opportunity to claim one of the highest recovery rates in the country!

So, how dare the media spoil the fun? The vengeance with which the BMC (read the government) has gone after OTV for letting the cat out of the bag proves that it is upset at the beans being spilled in public. In a classic case of putting the cart before the horse, the commissionerate police first lodged the FIR against OTV and then whisked away the two persons in the audio conversation late on Sunday night. One of them was released in the wee hours of Monday after a marathon round of questioning while the other was yet to be released at the time this column was being written.

If the case against OTV is yet another instance of the Naveen Patnaik dispensation’s impatience with and intolerance of any criticism by the media, the midnight whisking away of the two friends in the audio conversation is as blatant a violation of fundamental rights guaranteed under the constitution as one can imagine.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)

More Write-Ups From Columnist:

Column: Personal Liberties Can’t Be Sacrificed At The Altar Of COVID-19

Column: Human Rights In Corona-induced ‘Suspended Animation’!

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