Short of Covid beds, Kolkata ‘forcing’ infected to sign ‘isolation bonds’ & quarantine at home – ThePrint

Kolkata News
A crowd at the Kolkata flower market Thursday | Representational image | ANI

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Kolkata: Many Covid patients in Kolkata have alleged that they are being forced into home isolation by the authorities despite their demand for institutional care. According to patients, even the elderly and those with comorbidities are being made to sign an “isolation bond” that fixes the onus of self-isolation on them.

The allegations come as the West Bengal capital finds itself in a situation where it has more active Covid-19 cases than hospital beds. As of Friday, it had 2,222 beds in government Covid hospitals and 2,539 in private facilities (including those in satellite towns), against 6,422 active cases. 

The Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) admits that people who test Covid-positive are being made to sign isolation bonds, but says they have the choice to opt for institutional isolation centres if they wish to. The city hospitals, it claims, are under immense stress.

There have been three to four cases this month where Covid-19 patients in home isolation have died, which raises questions about the strategy. Experts say such deaths are a cause for alarm, noting that the gap in the number of cases and availability of beds, five months into the pandemic, constitutes an administrative lapse.

Also Read: Covid symptoms, prescription not enough, Kolkata residents face week’s wait or more for test

‘Isolation bond’

According to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) guidelines, home isolation is advised for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic patients. However, the house of a patient needs to fulfil certain conditions — like the potential for adequate distance between the patient and relatives — and local authorities need to conduct regular inspections.

Speaking to ThePrint, many Covid-19 patients in Kolkata said they had received multiple calls from the KMC after diagnoses. In each call, they added, the KMC officials insisted that they submit an isolation agreement that states they “voluntarily” chose to isolate themselves at home and will be responsible for their health condition.

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“I tested positive on 18 July. By 22 July, five members of my family, including me, my wife, my child, and my parents, had been diagnosed with Covid-19,” said a man from Kolkata’s Bowbazar area.

“Since then, the KMC has called me at least four times, asking me to submit an isolation agreement or declaration to the health department. I repeatedly requested them for at least two beds in any hospital, government or private, for my parents, who have comorbidity issues. They could not help with that,” the man added.

Another Covid-19 patient from the Lake Gardens area had a similar account to share. “The ward medical officer asked us to write a declaration, agreeing to voluntary self-isolation. We were also asked for a doctor’s prescription advising home-isolation. But my husband has severe comorbidity issues, and we are desperately searching for a bed. My eight-year-old daughter is also Covid-positive,” she said. 

Also Read: Mishti, immunity kick or gimmick? Kolkata doesn’t care as ‘anti-Corona’ sweets are the rage

‘There should be no insistence’

Explaining the isolation agreement, Atin Ghosh, deputy mayor of KMC, said, “There are three documents that need to be submitted once a person tests positive for Covid. The first document is an undertaking for an affected person given by one of the relatives. A doctor’s prescription advising home isolation needs to be submitted. And the affected person also has to give a declaration for self-treatment at home, saying there is enough space to isolate. 

“These three documents can be handwritten and signed or the persons can collect a form from a ward heath medical officer. We have a pro forma for the same.” 

Admitting that the hospitals are under immense stress, he said people with mild symptoms can get themselves admitted at a ‘safe home’ or institutional isolation centre if they are not willing to stay at home. 

A senior member of the chief minister’s task force on Covid protocol management sought to distance themselves from the allegations.

“We have asked the civic body to take undertakings from caregivers at home for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people. People with mild symptoms can also choose to stay at home according to ICMR guidelines. But there should not be any insistence,” the member said. 

Veteran virologist Nemai Bhattacharya, former head of microbiology at Kolkata’s School of Tropical Medicine, said it was “a failure of the government that it could not use the four months since March to augment or optimise health facilities and testing labs”.

“There have been three to four cases in the last few days where people died while in home isolation. Elderly people with comorbid conditions must be hospitalised as no one understand the progression of the virus,” Bhattacharya added.

Over the past few days, from 24 July to 30 July, Bengal has witnessed a steep spike in the number of cases, rising to 67,692 from 53,973. 

According to the health bulletin dated 30 July, 19,900 of these cases are active. The discharge rate has improved to 68 per cent from 58 per cent over the past two weeks, but the infection rate has shot up to 7.74 per cent.

Also Read: Kolkata is fast running out of hospital beds as Covid cases soar, mortality rate near 6%

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