Should houses of COVID positive patients be boarded up as they are?

HUMANITY DURING COVID-19

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A typical barricade put outside a house afflicted with Covid. Pic: Sriram V

Historically there have been many ways of isolating patients with infectious diseases. The ill can be removed to a place where they cannot infect others. If they are treated at home the residence itself can carry a warning sign – a method that has been in place since the time of the plagues.

The most disturbing however, and even traumatic for those living in such houses, is the prospect of being barricaded in. And yet, this is precisely what the city’s civic body is doing, and this is now being copied by other cities too.

The modus operandi, so we learn, is that the moment a test detects someone as COVID positive, their address details are shared by the laboratory itself with the Corporation. Whereupon, representatives of the civic body arrive and put up corrugated metal sheet barricades all around the residence.

If it is an independent house, the family of the infected person stays in; and if it is a multi-storeyed building, then everyone else in the block also stay at home. Flex banners are then hung out on the corrugated sheets, informing all passersby and vendors that the house contains infected people. 

All very well thus far. But it is in the design of those barricades that there is much to object to. Rather in the manner in which the great Moghul is said to have buried alive a courtesan who was in love with his son, these sheets are nailed close all around the house, leaving a small opening for entry and exit. This presumably is for the health workers to come in and take a look at how the patient is recovering. But beyond that, it effectively makes a prison out of the whole building. 

Now, a residence or a block of flats may be faced with situations when mass evacuation is needed. What happens if there is a fire for instance? How can all residents rush out to safety if the gates are as wide as the proverbial eye of the needle? What if a person has a fracture and has to be removed in a stretcher or needs an ambulance to be brought to the doorstep? There could be an earthquake – such a happening though rare is not unknown in the city. 

After all COVID is not the only problem that people may face. And even among those infected with the virus, there are instances where doctors ask for the patient to be sent out for scans. How is this to be achieved? And in which medical or administrative journal is it mandated that COVID patients need to be isolated behind corrugated sheets?

Of course, given the general indiscipline that is rampant in our city, the Corporation may have come up with this measure out of desperation in its attempts to isolate the infected. Even then, some other form of surveillance, especially in these technologically evolved times may have been far better. It is also reliably learnt that while the fixing of the barricades is quite prompt, the removal is not such a fast process and involves repeated reminders. 

Chennai citizens appear to be a patient lot and tolerate this kind of hemming in. On the other hand, there have been protests in Bengaluru over this boarding up and the civic body there was forced to not only remove such barricades but also issue an apology. It is high time the Corporation of Chennai comes up with a more evolved solution in keeping with the city’s image of being a technological capital. Such tactics as barricading belong to the middle ages.

[The post was originally published on the author’s blog and has been republished with permission.]
About V Sriram 22 Articles
V Sriram is an entrepreneur, columnist, music historian and heritage activist who is known for his books on the history of Chennai, Carnatic music and Chennai theatre. He is also known for his blog on Chennai heritage, and is the Editor of Madras Musings.

8 Comments

  1. I am one such covid 19 affected person whose apartment complex has been barricaded – all that I request is that after the stipulated time of quarantine for 14 days the authorities remove the barricade for the benefit of other flat owners who have been subjected to hardship due to the barricade

  2. There are few options. The Corporation Authorities do this as a balance . To barricade the entire street, or to barricade the house alone, or to compel the person to get hospitalised. ! In any case, the OTHERS who were with him in contact are necessarily mentally disturbed a lot. But what is the way out ? It is easy to criticize, but think that you are in the shoes of that Health Inspector who risks his life to do his duty, and then write. This is a humble request from a very old man around 80. Be Balanced even when distress and despair strikes.

  3. Thank you for giving expression to our thoughts. A better alternative would be to fine quarantined people who roam around. Maybe sharing part of the fine with neighbors who inform the authorities with proof would be a better deterrent for infected people who are not responsible enough to stay inside

  4. This is not being done in Chennai now and there is only a banner put outside. Even if the sheets are out, people in the houses are freely roaming outside at any time. In my neighbourhood I saw one guy coming out every day and using his car also.

  5. My house in Chennai pammal is barricaded and not even once a single health worker came home to chek the old people of house. No other member was tested. And they ask the old people to be taken to the camp they set up for testing. How? Vehicles are locked in

  6. This is very true. After one of my family members was hospitalized, we had so much difficulty to open and enter our house. It was psychologically traumatizing. This clearly shows the cheap uncivilized method followed by our inexperienced government. Kindly take measures to remove such measures.
    Will a CM’s house or a PM’s house or a minister’s house be closed in such a demeaning way?

  7. It’s a greatest insulting to the covid patients. Will the government do the same for MLA, MP and Ministers.

  8. Is this even legal? Who gave corporation authorities the right to erect barricades on a home owner’s property? If such a law/order was passed by the state govenment, why is it not being applied to every covid positive household?

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