It had been only 10 days since Dr Dyuthi Hariprasad joined duty after completing her MBBS. But little did she know that going for a swab collection for Covid-19 testing could turn out to be such a harrowing experience when she and her team were allegedly threatened by some locals in Kerala.
The team had gone in a car and were forced by the agitating local people from a fishing hamlet to lower the car window after which they allegedly spat on those inside the vehicle, sources from the Indian Medical Association (IMA) had said on Friday. All the four health workers have been asked to go into quarantine, they added.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Health Minister KK Shailaja have condemned the incident.
Vijayan said those with politically vested interests are creating such a campaign and instigating people from the area to attack health care workers who are risking their lives. Vijayan has assured that action will be taken against the accused.
Hariprasad was leading the team when their vehicle was surrounded by a group of agitating people. Hariprasad, who has been working at the coastal speciality hospital in Valiyathura, recounted her ordeal when she was sent for swab collection in the containment zone of Poonthura.
"Our team of four, including me, a staff nurse, nursing assistant and a lab technician, had gone to the area to collect swabs. When we reached the location, suddenly around 60-70 people surrounded our vehicle and angrily started hitting the car," she said.
"They were raising doubts about the antigen tests and were saying the results were false. Some even said they want us to contract the virus. This was really hurtful and not expected. The health workers have been risking their lives and going to the containment zones and performing their duties," she added.
"For about 10 minutes we were surrounded by them. One of the staff nurses then started crying," recalled Hariprasad. "I was also pleading with them to just let us go, that we will not collect their samples. I was really scared."
"Our windows were locked but at one point the driver rolled down the window to try and reason with the crowd, but they did not listen and some even forced their heads inside the car and spoke to us -- they were not wearing any masks or face covers," she said. "After more than 10 minutes, they let us go."
Shailaja and District Collector Navjot Khosa have spoken to the young doctor. "I am very proud of the work that our government is doing. Both of them listened patiently and extended their reassuring support to us," she said.
The police said an FIR has been registered in connection with the incident.
"As of now the FIR is against a crowd, we will check the video clipping and take action," said Trivandrum DCP Divya Gopinath. "The people were victims of a misinformation campaign that the tests being done are not the ones for coronavirus. This created panic among them and they obstructed the health team from performing their duties."
Poonthura, a containment zone, witnessed protests on Friday regarding the authenticity of antigen tests, with residents also alleging that provisions were not reaching them. It has witnessed super spread of the virus as a fisherman is said to have infected many others in the hamlet.
Vijayan has blamed a Youth Congress worker for the incident, saying he had campaigned through WhatsApp to bring people out on the streets to protest by spreading fake news. In the containment zone, at least 31,985 people are living and the health measures of the state government were "sabotaged" by some people spreading fake news, he claimed.
Commandos and at least 500 police personnel have been deputed in Poonthura to strictly enforce the lockdown there.