Narainapur declared ‘prohibited area’ as chaos and misinformation continuesIn the Banke rural municipality, as many as 13 infected went into hiding after they tested positive for the coronavirus. The reasons are manifold, including rumours, fake news and illiteracy.
On Friday, 13 more people from Narainapur in Banke were diagnosed with Covid-19. All of them fled their quarantine facility soon after they knew that they were infected.
The situation turned chaotic with all of them going into hiding, assisted by their family members and locals, police said. Nearly 1,000 people gathered at the quarantine facility soon as the news of infection spread and encircled the ambulances that were there to carry the infected to isolation centres.
The infected fled the centre while the locals began arguing with the police, who couldn’t locate the former that night. They were detained the next day, after dozens of security personnel were deployed.
Narainapur has become the coronavirus hotspot in Province 5 with as many as 114 people infected so far. The rural municipality in Banke is ill-equipped to deal with the situation, with no isolation wards to house the infected.
Prior to this, a similar situation played out on Monday when as many as 57 individuals were infected and they were left at the quarantine facility for over a day because of a lack of isolation wards in the district. The locals protested, arguing that the infected be sent home. The infected were moved to an isolation ward in Nepalgunj on Wednesday morning.
On Saturday, 27 more individuals from the same local unit were diagnosed with the virus. The police said they are maintaining stern vigilance this time, lest the previous episodes repeat.
To understand these episodes, one should look beneath the surface of the incidents, says Binay Dixit, a local youth leader. “Many locals have suddenly found themselves into this new reality and they are struggling to make sense of the situation,” Dixit said.
“Many are traumatised, emotions run high every day at the quarantine centres. Sights of family members of the infected sobbing while at the quarantine centres are common. They want the infected to be treated in their own locality.”
But for a remote region as Narainapur, treatment of Covid-19 at the local unit is not possible. The local unit only has one primary health post, which lacks resources, even electricity. Dixit points to the failure of the local units and health workers to sufficiently aware the people: “There are rumours in the villages. The family members worry that their dear ones would be placed liked prisoners in the isolation wards and would be deprived of food. The rumours are so wild that some families worry kidneys would be taken out of the infected.”
Rural Municipality chief Istiyak Ahmed Shah also said rumours and fake news have led many infected to flee the quarantine centres. “Even the noted leaders are spreading rumours, but I don’t understand why the district administration is silent about it,” Shah said.
Krishna Chandra Maurya, chief of Narainapur-5, said that the chaotic situation would continue in the future if isolation wards are not set up in the local unit itself.
“The locals worry about sending their infected family members away,” he said. “If there was an isolation ward in the local unit the family members would be consoled as they could see and talk with the infected every day. We wouldn’t have to see chaotic situations like this.”
For the security personnel handling the strange situation in Narainapur, every day is harder than the previous, said DSP Shiva Bahadur Singh, spokesperson for the District Police. “We have had to deter the agitating protesters twice while we try to move the infected to an isolation ward for the safety of the local unit,” he said. “This is not the proper atmosphere for us to work. We expect support from everyone but that’s been hard to come by.”
Mismanaged quarantines and poor regulations have contributed to a surge in the number of infected in the local unit, Rajan Pandey, chief of medical bureau at Bheri Hospital, told the Post.
Province 5 has been roundly criticised for its mismanaged and crowded quarantine facilities, with a fresh protest against it erupting in Kotahimai Rural Municipality in Rupandehi on Saturday. The residents of ward 6 decried the poor management in the quarantine facility at Bogadi Secondary School and sloganeered against the rural municipality chief Chandra Bhusan Yadav.
Nishant Pandey, a local of Kotahimai, said that the centre—which has 70 individuals, all of them India returnees—has not managed its garbage properly and the quarantined individuals are found to have visited the local grocery stores. “We have notified the local unit chief about the slack regulations but haven’t heard anything in response,” he said. “We were compelled to stage a protest.”
Citing the obstructions in transportation of Covid patients, the Banke District Security Committee on Sunday deployed the Army and declared Narainapur Rural Municipality as Prohibited Area. The order comes into effect from 8pm Sunday, according to the district administration. Following the repeated incidents of protests and the chaos, the rural municipality had corresponded with the District Administration and the Prime Minister’s Office for better security arrangements.
“If the protests and obstructions continue, then there's a high chance of rapid community transfer [of the disease],” Hari Pyakurel, the assistant CDO of Banke, said. “We are compelled to declare the local unit a prohibited area.”
The meeting of the security committee has also decided to deploy physicians at the local unit while taking initiatives to set up isolation wards at the local unit itself. “There is no electricity in the local unit, so we will use a generator instead,” Pyakurel said. “Works to set up the isolation ward will begin soon.”
(Sanju Paudel and Rupa Gahatraj contributed reporting.)