Challenges and experiences of Chennai returnees

Returnees arrive in Dimapur from Chennai on May 22. (Morung File Photo)
Returnees arrive in Dimapur from Chennai on May 22. (Morung File Photo)

Vishü Rita Krocha
Kohima | June 6


Even as the number of COVID-19 positive cases continues to surge in the state, reports of lack of discipline among many of the returnees in quarantine centres have emerged, posing more risk for further spread of the disease. More than 70% of the returnees are working professionals spread across the tourism industry, wellness, call centres, while some are into small menial jobs and very few students according to Robert Longchari, who is facilitating the reception of all stranded Nagas coming into the state by flight, train or road at the Dimapur Agri Expo Reception Centre.


Speaking to The Morung Express, Longchari said that many of them were  found to be 'not well qualified' and  "very few students have come by special train and some maybe through flight.”


On the behaviour of the returnees at the quarantine centres, he commented that “it was bound to happen because some of them are not well qualified, uneducated, and over the months, I think they have had a lot of difficulties out there, so after reaching home, maybe they feel that they are at home, and they can demand more.” However, he maintained that while discipline may be an issue for certain quarantine centres, it is not the same for all the centres.


But in the instance of Chennai returnees, the threat of the spread of COVID-19 was already lurking from the time of their departure as one of the returnees pointed out, “Before we departed from Chennai, no one maintained social distancing. We had to get on a bus, and we were requested to form a proper line, but people were crowding, touching, pushing each other, most of us ended up staying behind to wait. I am pretty sure, if somebody was already affected then, we were all at risk.”


“They were scared that the bus would leave and despite being assured that no one would be left behind, people were still very scared. There was panic rushing”, he told The Morung Express. He also cited the instance of some returnees asking for cigarettes wherein the in-charge of the quarantine centre was quite irked by the request. “The public are also panicked as well because of our arrival. We have to make people feel safe. Even if we have positive cases, it can be contained”, he expressed. 


Another Chennai returnee, who is currently being quarantined at Fazl Ali College, Mokokchung, said, “We were quarantined in Kohima for 3 days and we saw guys sneaking out through the windows.” Putting across that everyone has to be careful, she said, “We were really disheartened to see such behaviour.” At this time, she pointed out, it is so foolish for people to be sitting outside in groups.


During the train journey, she also related, “Even when we were told not to go out, there were some guys who went out despite the instruction. In the process, one guy lost his phone as well.” Like everywhere else, there are people who won’t abide with the rules, she lamented. However, in the Mokokchung centre, she felt that “everything is okay”, while adding that, “I think everyone is ‘obedient’.”


“Among the returnees are also young folks who are substance abusers, people who are anti-social. We cannot generalize also but we are hearing from quarantine centres, particularly of Chennai returnees, what people are saying is that most of them are rowdy, they would come out of the windows, breaking quarantine rules,” pointed out a government official, who did not wish to be named.


“People who behave well, there seems to be less spread”, he observed. He also talked about how it has been a “management nightmare” from the government side, while pointing to “decisions that are not so scientific, tribal mentality and all that, which were taken into account as SOP.” In this regard, he said, “it becomes too heavy for people who are working, where people get into severe mental stress.”


It is further learnt from another official that currently, group testing is only for Chennai returnees whereas all symptomatic returnees from other places are also being tested.


 
The Quarantine Experience
“It was chaotic at the start,” was an expression that resonated with most of the returnees this newspaper spoke with. For a Chennai returnee, who is currently in quarantine at Patkai Christian College, “it’s been ups and downs. It was chaotic at the start.

 

It seemed the organisers and in-charge didn’t know what to do. There was no communication; the higher ups weren’t talking to us.

 

At the start, we didn’t even get breakfast and when we asked our families to bring food, it wasn’t allowed.” However, he said these issues were resolved after two days. 


One of the main issues, he felt now is sharing the washroom and said, “it would be nice if people maintained cleanliness, it will help us a lot, and also sanitize yourself. These are some things I’d like to request our people.” “Things are slowly getting better but there’s always a little bit of fear”, he further said while adding “I am supposed to be out of the quarantine by now but I am happy to stay as long as the results don’t come.”


Meanwhile, a female Chennai returnee who is currently at the Maple Tree Quarantine Centre, Dimapur, said, “We are trying our best to maintain social distancing. The facilities are good, they provide geyser in every washroom, we have sufficient water supply, and we get three meals a day.” Stating her profound gratitude to the caretakers, people who cook meals for them and all those who are taking care of them, she also said, “We are trying our best not to panic. We are concerned whether we’ll be the next person and when we think so much, we get headache.”


Stressing that none of us saw this coming, she related that the medical team came and took one mother, and after some days, some girls who tested positive. “We were a bit scared because we don’t get full information”, she highlighted.


Besides all the good things we are receiving, we also have problems, she said, while underlining that “we weren’t allowed to have access from our families except for medicines. But there are some things important to us like shampoo, soap, etc.” Stating that “we cannot demand everything from the quarantine centre”, she wished they could have access to these basic needs.


She further cited an instance where requests made by a girl who was allergic to certain food, was rudely brushed aside. Another time, another girl was shouted at by the trash collector, she added. Impressing upon that these may seem small trivial things, she said, it could be mentally disturbing.


However, on the other hand, she said that “Doctors come every morning for test,” and acknowledged that “The medical people are the most polite people.”