“Had we gone home, we would have been able to be more cautious and maintained hygiene. We are afraid that if not COVID-19, we will get something else here,” one person says.

soiled bedsheet and manager of a paid quarantine facility in Karnataka
Coronavirus Quarantine Tuesday, May 19, 2020 - 12:26

When Aravind quit his job in February to take one of his month-and-a-half long breaks to travel, the situation seemed quite ordinary. Based in Bengaluru, he travelled to Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand; and his flight back from the latter was on March 26. However, the lockdown due to COVID-19 and subsequent cancellation of flights laid waste to his plans. So when he finally got on one of the special trains on May 14 to come back to Bengaluru from Uttarakhand, he was looking forward to being back home, even if it meant he would have to isolate himself. 

However, after boarding the train, he and his fellow passengers were informed that they would have to go through institutional quarantine. When he finally reached Bengaluru and took the option of staying at a low budget hotel from the list provided, he was in for a shock. 

For starters, while the card shown to him at the station said that he would be charged Rs 750 per day, upon reaching the hotel, Aravind was asked to shell out Rs 1800 for a day’s stay. Anand, another man who is quarantined with his wife in the same hotel, found that the linen was old and unclean. “The staff has not been wearing gloves or practicing physical distancing either,” he tells TNM.  

Anand and Aravind are not the only ones with unpleasant experiences with paid institutional quarantine in Karnataka. From being charged exorbitant amounts over what they were told, to unhygienic conditions, to no clarity about when they would be tested for COVID-19 and allowed to go back home, several anecdotes and alarming photos of the conditions of paid quarantine facilities in Karnataka have emerged on social media.

TNM spoke to people from one such hotel at Gandhi Nagar, Bengaluru.  

The exorbitant prices 

Twenty-seven-year-old Aravind took to Twitter to share his experience of staying at this hotel. Speaking to TNM, he says, “I had already spent 53 days in Uttarakhand due to the lockdown and that drained my bank account. When I reached Bengaluru, I initially thought that I will go for the free quarantine facility. But an official said that I should go for the low budget option because they will test us for COVID-19 and let us go after three days. So I went for the lowest priced option.”

The ride to the hotel in a BMTC (Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation) bus, which he says was just a kilometre away from the railway station was charged at Rs 100 per person. What’s more, once they got to the hotel, not only was double the price quoted for the room, they were also allegedly asked to pay upfront for 14 days’ stay. 

“They want us to pay for 14 days upfront which is around 25k. That's 2x the rent that I am paying for the apartment currently,” Aravind wrote in his tweet. This was confirmed by Anand as well. 

However, the residents protested and as of now, the hotel has agreed to take the payment for the first 3-4 days. “I am not in a position to pay beyond three days anyway, especially at their rates,” says Aravind. “I came back to Bengaluru to pay rent and keep the home that I have here in HSR layout. But if I have to stay in the hotel, I don’t think I will be able to retain my house,” he adds. 

Unhygienic conditions, no clarity on testing 

While an official at the railway station allegedly told the train returnees that they will be tested for COVID-19 within three days, now they are being told that the test will be done on the 10th or 12th day. 

This has left residents of the hotel feeling helpless and clueless, Anand says. “We would rather have gone home and adhered to the guidelines of home quarantine and cooperated for the test. Here, even if we ask for detergent to wash our clothes post travel, they take an extra tip for that. The same goes for water and tea. The linens are stained and the hotel also does not have a change because it was shut for the last two months,” he says.

An elderly couple staying at the same hotel also expressed their apprehension to TNM. While the woman, who identified herself as Mrs Jain, is 69, her husband is 73. They arrived at the hotel on May 17 from Vrindavan. “We told the officials that we have our own home here in Bengaluru and we will be much safer over there as it’s just the two of us who live there. They can even put us under lock and key. But they said that only those above the age of 80 can be allowed to do so. Had we gone home, we would have been able to be more cautious and maintained hygiene. More people are also coming to the hotel from different places and trains. We are afraid that if not COVID-19, we will get something else here,” Mrs Jain says.  

The residents allege that the hotel and perhaps even the government officials are fleecing them, seeing this as an opportunity. In one instance, a hotel staffer allegedly offered to allow a resident to leave the hotel at midnight if they were to pay for 14 days upfront along with ‘doctor charges’.

In an audio recording of the same heard by TNM, a man can be heard saying if they pay up around Rs 18,000 and Rs 4,000 each for the doctor, “we will have a vehicle ready for you by 12 midnight and will discharge.” The man further says that if the test is done and the reading is above a certain value, they will have to stay on for another fortnight or so. 

“We are ready to home quarantine and cooperate. But we should be allowed to go home, especially if we don't have any vulnerable persons staying with us. These conditions are not ideal for safe quarantine at all,” Mrs Jain says. 

No place to convey grievance 

Anand says that it is not as though they have not tried to take the issue up with the authorities. “Someone from the Department of Information and Public Relations told us to contact the police. Yesterday, there was a police van that came outside our hotel for some issue. One person went out, but he was shouted down by the police officials. The policeman told him to go back upstairs, and said, ‘if you have so much problem, why are you coming to Karnataka?’,” Anand narrates. “But this is our home. I have been living here for 11 years. Why should we be talked to like this?”

He adds that sometimes, the food is not given at fixed timings. “There is a mother with a one-year-old child here. There are elderly people. But with no consideration for them, we have gotten lunch at 4 pm sometimes.” 

In an unrelated matter, the Karnataka Health Department on March 14 had justified institutional quarantine to maintain safety, and, in a series of tweets, said that if people choose hotels for quarantine, they should expect to pay up. 

However, several people on Twitter have been pointing out that the charges for paid institutional quarantine are much more exorbitant than shown on paper. They have been saying that the government should not force institutional quarantine, and allow for home quarantine where possible.

Similar stories have been coming in from many other paid institutional quarantine facilities in Karnataka. A Twitter user named Pooja shared a photo of how she had to pay Rs 200 for going from the railway station to the hotel for institutional quarantine, for a distance of 1.2 kilometres. 

Another user, Harish, posted photos of a quarantine centre in Kalaburagi. It is not clear if it is a paid quarantine facility. 

Prasanna Viswanathan, talked about how people coming from Tamil Nadu were being forced to pay Rs 2,000 per day for institutional quarantine in Karnataka. 

Journalist Petlee Peter posted photos of food served at a three-star hotel where people were being quarantined, which had insects. According to the rate card shown to Anand and Aravind at the railway station, three and four star hotels’ charges were Rs 1,500 per day per person, and Rs 1,700 per day per couple. However, according to Peter’s tweet, the charge for the three-star hotel room was Rs 2,450 per day. 

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