It’s easy to complain about our city’s bureaucracy, but we need to appreciate it when it works.
When Chennai, like the rest of India and most of the world, went into lockdown in March, my husband and I weren’t too worried. We were confident that if we took adequate precautions, we’d escape the scourge. We thought that any problems we faced would be more because of social distancing requirements than anything else.
We were wrong.
Receiving the diagnosis
One evening in October, I found that I had a stuffy nose. Out of an abundance of caution, I avoided people and monitored my symptoms. The next morning, I woke up with severe fatigue and no sense of taste and smell.
A conversation with my doctor indicated that the symptoms were consistent with COVID-19 and she recommended that I get tested and provided the needed referrals. My husband and I decided to go to a private lab and both of us got tested though he showed no symptoms.
Private labs in Chennai return results the same day. Our doctor called us saying that we had both tested positive. She had been informed first. Since I exhibited only mild symptoms and my husband had no symptoms at all, we were recommended home quarantine.
I was advised symptomatic treatment. We were asked to monitor our oxygen levels and temperature and to raise an alarm if the numbers breached certain levels. Our doctor was able to send us prescriptions, advice and home quarantine guidance via an app.
The next morning started with a call from the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) to confirm our identities and physical address. The caller said that GCC staff would come to our house to initiate the quarantine process. Half an hour later, an official from the Corporation was at our doorstep. He verified our address, found out how many people reside in our home and evaluated our ability to isolate and home quarantine.
We qualified for home quarantine based on our doctor’s recommendation and were not required to go down to the corporation clinic to meet the doctor. We were advised to strictly adhere to the 14-day quarantine period, and our neighbours were also asked to monitor their symptoms and avoid travel outside their homes for a week.
Later in the day, more GCC staff appeared, to help us kick start our quarantine. Notices were posted outside our apartment, advising no interaction. We were introduced to a volunteer – a person assigned to a quarantine household for support in procuring groceries, medicines etc. during the quarantine period as well as a garbage collector, who showed up every day to ensure that garbage was collected.
GCC officials continued to visit us every 3rd day to check on our progress while the young man assigned to our building to check temperatures monitored us everyday, offering to arrange for visits to a doctor if needed.
From the third day of our quarantine, we started receiving daily follow-up calls from the Corporation staff, who apart from enquiring on our status also gave us tips on nutrition and hygiene, offered to schedule tele-consults appointments with doctors through the GCC’s Vidmed app, sought validation on garbage collection and if the volunteer was available etc. This was done until day 10.
The staff were well trained, polite, courteous and often deeply apologetic for having to intrude on our recovery, but emphasizing the need to ensure control especially during home quarantine.
Road to recovery
Our recovery was smooth and we were fortunate to only experience mild symptoms. On Day 14, we completed our quarantine with no complications and recommendations not to get complacent about potential antibodies that gave us access to a pre-COVID life. With those warnings, the quarantine notices were taken down and we were liberated.
COVID-19 got us despite the precautions we took. The illness apart, the GCC efforts in managing this pandemic was extraordinary. The various cogs of the wheel spinning seamlessly was on full display during our experience.
As easy as it is to critique the infinitesimally slow turn of bureaucratic wheels, this experience allowed us a window into what it takes to roll out a working system for a large swathe of population and that view was impressive. Everyone’s experience is possibly not the same, but a shout out to the Chennai Corporation when it works is what this is about.