Covid-19 fight needs more transparent information, not less
The SC bench, however, has observed that the reality is that infected households are being treated as untouchables because of the poster.
A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court (SC) has asked the Centre why sticking posters giving infection-status/quarantine-period details outside the houses of those who have tested positive should continue. Last month, the SC had directed the Centre to issue guidelines to stop the practice—some states and the government of the national capital territory had been doing this to ensure that the general public would stay away to break the chain of transmission.
The Delhi government had stopped the practice—and informing resident associations—but brought it back as cases began to surge again. Now, a PIL has contended that the posters violate the rights of patients and stigmatise them. The Centre, to its credit, not only decided not to stop the practice last month but also, this time around, has maintained that the practice has little to do with stigmatising and is rather aimed at protecting the people from possible contagion. The SC bench, however, has observed that the reality is that infected households are being treated as untouchables because of the poster.
Covid-19 related stigmatisation is real—there are enough evidences of this—and have serious consequences, too; imagine the plight of healthworkers, airlines personnel, etc, who have been denied accommodation or evicted. Indeed, such stigmatisation leaves the poor even more vulnerable—for instance, a domestic worker working multiple households being denied work and pay if one of the households she works in reports a Covid-19 case.
The Centre and the state government do need to be proactive to curb this, and it can be done through constant awareness messaging on disease transmission and general information of infective-status, apart from penalising cases of gross discrimination. Dropping Covid-posters outside houses, though, does little since the attitude remains, with or without posters. Indeed, ‘no posters’ means an open route for inadvertent transmission.
The SC needs to be cognisant of the fact that cases in most states are rising again—a third of Delhi’s cases so far have been reported in just one month (November). Himachal Pradesh added half of its overall cases, whereas Rajasthan, Haryana and Kerala added a quarter of theirs, in just November. Caution-fatigue and the festive season crowding got compounded by easing of restrictions, and this needs to be controlled now.
Indeed, the government—both states and the Centre—needs to go beyond informing the public and get more aggressive on contact-tracing, even if it is far more complicated now than it was in the early months. Delhi only committed to ramping up contact-tracing and household-survey after it registered 7,000 cases daily. Indeed, the Centre had claimed before the SC that the Delhi government didn’t do proper contact-tracing of home isolation cases.
On its part, the Centre had failed to drive adoption of Aarogya Setu, weakening trust in the app by being deliberately opaque about its particulars. At such a time, doing away with posters that tell people to keep away or adopt caution is hardly advisable.