Fifteen people in Andhraâ€™s Vizianagaram district were forced to spend five days in a cattle shed on the outskirts of their village with a relative who recently returned from Hyderabad testing positive for coronavirus.
The group, including children and elderly, lived in difficult circumstances for five days, before authorities intervened and sent ten of them back to home quarantine in Ethamanuvalasa village of Pachipenta mandal.
Five people, who were primary contacts of the patient -- his mother, father and brothers -- continued to stay at the cattle shed voluntarily.
In a video which surfaced on Friday, one of the 15 relatives, the patientâ€™s brother-in-law as well as Pachipenta mandal secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Girijana Sangham said that the families had been quarantined for three days at the cattle shed. With young kids and elderly among the group, the brother-in-law said that the group had been ostracised by the villagers. He said that they had been struggling without proper food and resources, and that their situation had worsened with rains.
The revenue and police authorities said that while COVID-19 quarantine centres were earlier opened in the mandal, they were recently instructed to shut them down and ask people to opt for home quarantine instead.
On Friday, Pachipenta Mandal Revenue Officer M V Ramana Murthy intervened, spoke to the villagers, and sent back ten members of the group, including the children. The patientâ€™s family, who had been in direct contact with him, claim that they have voluntarily stayed back and are awaiting their test results.
The patient had returned from Hyderabad on Sunday, according to his brother. â€śOn Monday, we moved to the cattle shed on the village outskirts, as some of the villagers were afraid. My brotherâ€™s sample was collected on Monday, and on Tuesday, he was informed that the test was positive. He was taken to a hospital in Vizianagaram town on Wednesday,â€ť he said.
According to the patientâ€™s brother-in-law, after the patient was moved to Vizianagaram, the group did not receive any support from authorities. With heavy rains on Thursday making things worse, videos of their living situation in the cattle shed were recorded and circulated, after which authorities intervened.
Pachipenta Sub-Inspector Gangaraju said that there is a lot of fear and stigma among the people, which made them hostile towards the families of patients. â€śThis is the second case in the mandal so far. People are still not familiar with protocols. We cannot exactly say the families were banished. People were acting out of fear, and since the families were from ST community (Konda dora), they were even more vulnerable,â€ť he said.
All fifteen family members were tested for coronavirus on Saturday, and are awaiting results.