There is no denying the fact that all 59 persons tested COVID-19 positive in Manipur till May 29 at the time of writing this story are returnees from the cities and towns outside Manipur including one from London. Fortunately, so far there is also no report of people of Manipur who didn’t go outside who has tested COVID-19 positive.
Therefore, the general feeling is, maintaining physical distance from the returnees until they are proven COVID-19 negative will ensure safety for all.
Over and above Manipur Government’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Guidelines for returnees to be quarantined either at home or Government/Community Quarantine Centres, general public also want the returnees to be quarantined compulsorily.
It may be mentioned that many criticised and pressurised the Government of Manipur through social media when the State Home Department issued an Office Memorandum on May 24 as SOP for passengers returning by Airlines stating among others that all asymptomatic passengers shall be stamped for Home Quarantine on their hand with indelible ink and allowed to baggage collection area. The fear of the people was that the asymptomatic passengers might be the carriers of COVID-19 because they returned back home from various COVID-19 epicentres of India or passed through the places of hotspots, and if they become symptomatic and tested positive during home quarantine there is a chance of community spread of COVID-19. The people of Manipur don’t want to take the risk of community spread from the returnees.
Consequently, the Government of Manipur had to change the SOP by issuing another order by Chief Secretary of Manipur on May 25 before the first flight since lockdown arrived at Imphal airport. The government on war footing opened a transit quarantine centre at HRD Academy, Ghari along the airport road.
However, it is said that there were some returnees who skipped the institutional quarantine thereby leaving a chance of community spread of the pandemic once the returnees become tested positive after joining their families.
Eyewitnesses said that some of the passengers belonging to the families of VIP quickly left the airport in the vehicles of VIP skipping the institutional quarantine.
Indian Red Cross Society, Manipur State Branch Chairman Dr. Y Mohen expressed through media, “I myself and even some media persons witnessed that some passengers belonging to the families of VIPs of Manipur Government left the airport in VIP vehicles skipping institutional quarantine.”
I don’t want to name the VIPs but I had texted to Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) L. Kailun suggesting him to tally the number of passengers arrived at the airport and the number of passengers put up at HRD Academy, which was immediately opened as transit quarantine exclusively for the returnees by air, he added.
Unfortunately, reports of some missing inmates from quarantine centres who later were tested positive made the public panicky. Recently two inmates from the Community Quarantine Centre at ARECA School, Kabo Leikai in Imphal tested positive. And returnees who avoided Government/Community Quarantine were picked up by the State Surveillance Team.
Mismanagement and inequality in the treatment of the returnees is suicidal and will make all the efforts which have been taken up by everyone irrespective of Government or civil populace will be in vain when physical distancing and mandatory quarantine of returnees are the vital keys among others to flatten the curve of COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Y Mohen, Chairman of Manipur State Branch of Indian Red Cross Society who has been extending their service as auxiliary to the Government of Manipur in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in Manipur expressed his concerns about the non-screening of returnees and their proper quarantine.
There was also an instance on the evening of May 28 when one of the three returnees who came by air refused to be screened at Oriental College Screening Centre by saying that he would check in one hotel in Imphal while the other two were screened and put up at the institutional quarantine centre at St. George School, Imphal.
When the hotel refused to let him check in without a certificate of screening, he rang up one VIP and later the VIP instructed the medical officer on duty at the Oriental College Screening Centre to issue a screening certificate. The doctor at first refused but he was to oblige with the VIP since he instructed to issue the screening certificate that he was screened and found asymptomatic even without actual screening. Thus, the returnee checked in the hotel at last, Dr. Y Mohen said.
There are also complaints about the improper functioning of non-contact thermometer and other equipment at the quarantine centres. The Government particularly concerned departments need to give immediate attention and necessary actions.
When the implementation of SOPs strictly is a must for safety and security of the people of Manipur, there are many loopholes in the system, which is dangerous and suicidal in the COVID-19 battle, Dr. Y Mohen expressed to FPSJ Review.
He further expressed his doubt about the lack of reagents for testing when the test of the returnees needs to be increased and sped up.
There are also complaints from the inmates of quarantine centres regarding testing. Some inmates who arrived later in two or three days tested and discharged for home quarantine after they tested negative while there are inmates who have been quarantined for more than 12 days are yet to test.
Moreover, Pointing out that there are huge lapses in preparedness and maintenance of quarantine centres opened for returnees, Apunba Ireipakki Maheiroi Sinpanglup (AIMS), All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU), Democratic Students Alliance of Manipur (DESAM), Kangleipak Students’ Association (KSA), Manipuri Students’ Federation (MSF) and Students’ Union of Kangleipak (SUK) in a joint statement on May 26 said that authorities concerned should strictly monitor and enforce the COVID-19 safety guidelines at the centres.
Apart from setting up enough quarantine centres, Government should ensure that there is strict compliance to the safety guidelines including social and physical distancing norms at the quarantine centres. People packed in small rooms at the quarantine centres will enhance spread of the virus among the inmates, said the bodies.
Stressing the need for enhancing COVID-19 tests, the bodies said that health authorities and State should ensure rapid and timely conduct of tests. The results should be available on time as expected to take up quick follow-up actions to separate the person(s) concerned and contain the virus, they said.
In another development, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Advocate Hillson claimed that the quarantine centres set up by the Manipur Government lack the prescribed standards laid down by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as well as the National Centre for Disease Control.
A Division Bench of High Court of Manipur on May 26 directed the Manipur Human Rights Commission (MHRC) to inspect status of quarantine centres opened in all districts and file a report of its findings within 15 days.
The Division Bench of the High Court of Manipur comprising of Justice Lanusukum Jamir and Justice Kh Nobin gave the directive during hearing of PIL to set up adequate quarantine centres to accommodate stranded State natives coming back from different cities across India.
The PIL had also enquired about the status of the quarantine centres and sought Government and authorities concerned to follow WHO guidelines in the centres.
The Court gave 10 days time to Government to file counter affidavit and fixed June 15 for further hearing of the PIL.
It is learnt that the MHRC would start inspection quarantine centres from June 1.
If the returnees are not quarantined at Government/Community Quarantine Centres under close monitoring and they are not closely guarded following SOPs strictly, the chance of spreading COVID-19 at community level is very high. And sending off returnees to their homes being a member or relative of a VIP is very suicidal for the whole state because the COVID-19 knows no boundary or VIPs.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics