The couple said they were already cleared at the Kochi airport and would also quarantine themselves at their flat in Thrissur.

Kerala apartment ostracises NRI couple from Saudi seals door with tape
Coronavirus Coronavirus Monday, March 16, 2020 - 17:40

Facing ostracisation and prejudice from neighbours while being in home-quarantine is the last trauma that any person would want to undergo. This is what a couple who returned from Saudi Arabia on Sunday morning experienced when they reached their apartment building in Thrissur district of Kerala.

Since the couple returned from Saudi Arabia, which has reported 118 COVID-19 cases (as of March 16), a few members of the flat owners’ association decided to go the extra mile in ensuring the safety of other residents in the building. They sealed the door of the Saudi-returned couple’s flat with tapes, to monitor if they were leaving the house. Following a complaint by the couple, four members from the association, including its president and secretary, have been booked by the police.

As the couple were not willing to talk to the media, another resident of the same apartment building on Avenue Road in Thrissur spoke to TNM on the condition of anonymity.

The NRI (non-resident Indian) couple resides in Saudi Arabia and keeps visiting their own flat in Thrissur often. On Saturday night, the couple sent a message on the WhatsApp group of the flat owners’ association, stating he is arriving in Thrissur the next morning. “An association member immediately replied that they cannot come to the apartment building since there are children and elderly residents. They were asked to remain in quarantine for 14 days at another place, and only after that, would they be able to enter their flat,” the resident said.

The couple was, however, already on their flight, en route to Kerala. Later, they told the WhatsApp group that the health officials at the Kochi International airport screened them and gave them clearance to leave. As part of the procedure, they also gave their communication details — the address of their Thrissur flat — so that health officials could monitor then while the couple remained in quarantine.

“They specified on the group that they will remain in quarantine for 14 days and that they will not step out of the flat,” the resident said.

The couple reached the apartment building by 11 am on Sunday, only to be denied entry. “A doctor who is also a resident of the same building then contacted the nodal officers in the district, who said that once they have been cleared at the airport, they have every right to go to their house. After waiting for more than 30 minutes, they were let inside,” the resident added.

Soon, there was another update on the group, saying that the association was taking all “necessary precautions”.

Although the man’s son had reportedly stocked the house with provisions, on compassionate grounds, a few residents called them and left some more food and provisions outside the flat.

It was during this that another resident noticed two stickers stuck on the door. It was sealed in a way that the person inside the flat would not be able to exit. When the man tried to open the door to take the items at his doorstep, he realised it was sealed.

When he asked on the group, a member of the association said that the paper stickers on the door were to see if he was coming out of the apartment and risk others. The member also said they notified all the helpline centres about the couple. It was at this point that the couple's son alerted the District Medical Officer, who then directed them to call the Thrissur Town East police station.

On Monday, police and health officials reached the apartment building, took the tapes off and opened the door. The association members were then taken to the police station, where they were booked.

A case has been registered against the four association members under sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 342 (wrongful confinement), 34 (offence committed with common intention) of the Indian Penal Code. “They were arrested as part of public awareness so that such acts of ostracisation do not happen anywhere,” an official at the police station told TNM.

(With inputs from Sandeep Vellaram)

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