Why the Jammu deaths are a tragic reminder of our Covid-19 paranoia

Two cousins from Jammu died of dehydration while on their way to cremate their uncle who died of Covid-19. Authorities were apathetic due to the fear of contracting the coronavirus.

 |  3-minute read |   24-06-2020
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Epidemiologists and other medical experts have repeatedly warned that deaths, not rising numbers, is the key metric to understand the impact of the Covid pandemic on India. On June 24, India’s Covid-infected cases stood at 4,40,215, with recoveries at 2,48,189. The number of Covid-related deaths stood at 14,011.

Dharavi — the 2,400-square kilometre slum sprawl — had reported its first Covid case on April 1. It emerged as a Covid-19 hotspot in Mumbai by mid-April, but witnessed a steady decline in the number of new cases in June. On Saturday, addition to cases was in single digits for the first time since the area reported its first case.

Yet the Jammu incident is a tragic reminder of our collective paranoia with Covid.

Two cousins — 43-year-old Vimal Zadoo and 30-year-old Vipan Zadoo — both residents of Jammu, died on the banks of the Tawi river on June 18. Both tested negative for Covid-19. The two were on the way to cremate their uncle, who died after testing positive for Covid. Wearing the PPEs for hours, the cousins suffered scorching heat inside. They later had to push an ambulance across a riverbank and fell unconscious. Their relatives alleged that the officials refused to help for fear of contracting the virus.

main_covid-dead-body_062420014557.jpgThe incident is a tragic reminder of our collective paranoia with Covid. (Representative photo: Reuters)

The family said that around noon on June 18, the hospital staff made the cousins wear PPEs and go inside the mortuary to identify the body and bring it out. Thereafter, they were made to board the ambulance along with the body and proceed towards the cremation site. Their relative, Amit Zadoo, was also with them.

After about half an hour, the ambulance reportedly stopped some distance short of the cremation site. The cousins sat inside the vehicle for 15 minutes in PPE kits when the temperature outside was 46 degree Celsius.

As the ambulance moved towards the riverbed, a tyre got stuck. The family members were allegedly asked to push the vehicle. Vimal was the first to fall unconscious, said a relative, followed by Vipan.

With no help forthcoming, Amit rushed his relatives to the hospital. Family members said that Vimal and Vipal lay there for hours, but no revenue officials or the police came forward to help, for fear of contacting the coronavirus. Both men died of dehydration, a relative said.

So deep is the fear psychosis against Covid, that no health worker accompanied the body, and the cremation was left to untrained relatives.

BJP’s Jammu unit has demanded a judicial inquiry, accusing the administration of putting the responsibility of handling the body of a coronavirus patient on relatives, and demanded an FIR against officials guilty of negligence.

Sushma Chauhan, the Jammu District Magistrate, has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the death of the two men and announced ex-gratia relief of Rs 2 lakh each to the next of kin. Lieutenant Governor GC Murmu on Monday approved ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh each to the next of kin of the deceased.

We will get a cure for Covid sooner or later, but what about the paranoia?

Also read: The Covid stigma is a bigger malaise than the disease itself

Writer

Affan Yesvi Affan Yesvi @afanyesvi

The writer is a young social activist from Jammu and Kashmir.

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