From Beating Pots and Pans to Beating Doctors, Coronavirus Fight Takes Bizarre Turn

In two separate incidents on Wednesday – one in Bhopal and the other in Delhi – doctors were accused of "spreading coronavirus" and violently attacked for carrying out their jobs.

New Delhi: Days after the country applauded the efforts of healthcare professionals and workers by ringing bells and banging pots and pans, in two separate incidents – one in Bhopal and the other in Delhi – doctors were accused of “spreading coronavirus” and violently attacked for carrying out their jobs.

In Delhi, a 42-year-old man has been arrested after he allegedly accused two female resident doctors at Safdarjung Hospital of spreading coronavirus and assaulted them. The two doctors, posted in the Emergency department of the hospital, were not dealing with COVID-19 patients.

Incidentally, Delhi is one of the worst-affected states with 669 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and nine deaths so far.

According to the hospital Residents Doctor’s Association, the incident took place at Gulmohar Enclave where the two doctors had gone to buy fruits and vegetables at around 9:30 pm on Wednesday. The enclave is only a short distance away from Gautam Nagar, where the two resided.

In her complaint to the police, one of the doctors said that she had gone to the market with her sister when the accused accosted them.

First, the man accused the two doctors of spreading coronavirus. The RDA president, Manish, told a news agency that “a local resident, who was in the vicinity, asked them to stay away from the fruit stall, saying you doctors bring infection from the hospital and spread it here.”

Without any provocation, the middle-aged man also began talking about the need for social distancing and how it was because of such doctors that residential areas now faced a greater risk of the virus.

When the doctors replied by saying that such charges were misplaced and that they knew the importance of social distancing, the accused began abusing at them and allegedly twisted their hands, pushed them and fled.

The Hauz Khas police have registered a case on the complaint by one of the doctors. It said the accused was subsequently identified and arrested. The police have also medically examined both the victims after they charged that the accused had also touched one of them inappropriately. Deputy Commissioner of Police (South) Atul Kumar Thakur told the media, “we have registered a case and arrested the accused in connection with the incident”.

Also read: India Needs an Urgent Law to Protect All Health Workers From Violence

In Bhopal, two PG residents from the Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences Bhopal (AIIMS Bhopal) were assaulted by police officials in the evening on Wednesday, as they were on their way back home from the hospital.

“I was going back home after my emergency duty was over when I was stopped on my way home. I was with another doctor when they [police officials] stopped us right outside the hospital campus,” said Dr Rituparna Jana and added that despite showing their identification cards, the police asked the two why they were roaming around outside if they were doctors.

“The police then threw our belongings away and said that it was doctors like us who were spreading the coronavirus,” said Rituparna and added that the police then beat her and the doctor accompanying her with lathis. She said that she has since lodged complaints about the incident.

The Resident Doctor’s Association at AIIMS Bhopal has written to the director of AIIMS Bhopal condemning “the atrocity and brutality by the police against resident doctors of AIIMS Bhopal”.

The incident in Bhopal comes close on the heels of another occurrence when two women doctors were injured when a team of health officials in Indore was pelted with stones while they were trying to trace a person who had come into contact with a COVID-19 patient.

The incidents have occurred even though several senior politicians, including the Union home minister Amit Shah, health minister Harsh Vardhan and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, had last month stressed on the importance of not harassing doctors and nurses who were at the forefront of the fight against coronavirus.

After several doctors and nurses complained about facing harassment at the hands of their landlords and neighbours, Amit Shah had urged the Delhi police commissioner to take strict action against people who were harassing those treating COVID-19 patients and asking doctors to vacate their residences. Harsh Vardhan had also raised the issue of how doctors and paramedics combating the virus spread were being “ostracised in residential complexes and societies”.

Referring to how doctors, nurses and even pilots and air hostesses were being harassed, Kejriwal had said: “This is not right. These people are risking their lives for us and we are behaving in this way. We should change this mindset.”

A global pattern emerges

As countries across the world grapple with the spread of the novel coronavirus, attacks against doctors and healthcare workers have cropped up. In Mexico, state authorities have arranged special buses for nurses and a hospital in the country’s second-largest city has asked medical personnel to don civilian clothes on their way to and from work after some public buses refused to allow healthcare workers to board them.

Last week, a nurse in Chicago said that she was punched in the face on a bus on her way home after her shift at a local hospital ended. The man who attacked her accused her of coughing on him to infect him with the coronavirus.

In Philippines, after reports of assaults against healthcare workers and professionals came to the fore, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered police officials to protect health workers.