Beware of Contract Tracing (CT). It makes robust common, logical and practical sense to practice Social Distancing and Stay Home. Ramaswami (name changed, request or no request) is a classic example as to how/why CT happens, once there is a trace/hint/suspicion that you may have come in contact with a Covid-19 – symptomatic or asymptomatic entity. It seems far scarier than the pandemic itself. If the message of ways and means of Contract Tracing is driven home, all the Covidiots may voluntarily get themselves shutdown by choice, not compulsion.
It was 11.00. a.m. on a week day. Ramaswami was out on an errand, to pick up bread, cheese and bananas. Nothing more, and he decided to take a circuitous route to the shop than the 200 metre distance from home.
Without telling his family, he went monileless to the supermarket, as he assumed, he would be back in ‘10 minutes flat’ How wrong and stupid of him? It was after 36 hours to the hour, when the family lost touch with him, that they got to know what had come of him. This is what transpired, as Ramaswami has now been traced and found to be in quarantine, and likely to be back in the pink of his health, in two weeks from now.
Ramaswami took a circuitous route and arrived at the supermarket, around 11.10 a.m., to pick up bread, cheese and bananas. At 11.12 a.m., a jeep with masked men appeared, followed by an empty passenger carrying bus. The ‘few’ entered the supermarket, with a couple of policemen in tow. They forcibly only pulled down the shutters of the shop. And one loud mouth shouted, “Silence. Stand where you are. Let there be distance maintained between each of you . Stop any activity you are engaged in. Be you an employee, or a customer come visiting, cease your activity.”
There were murmurs among the assembled, as they were hushed into silence, with a blowing whistle, from one of the policemen. The loud mouthed went ahead, “Please be informed that a customer who had visited this shop, one hour ago, has been found to be Coronavirus positive. He was asymptomatic, but he had offered himself for testing ultra cautiously.”
“He was ‘requested’ to be in quarantine, as he was an official in subordinate judiciary, but chose to breach and come out. He has now been tested to be positive. We are now engaged in Contract Tracing. He had visited only this supermarket, and was here for less than 20 minutes, out of which 18 minutes he stood in the queue waiting for billing process. We are now constrained to round you all up and take you for testing. We cannot take any chances. We request you not to resist. It is in your interest. Please get out of the shop, one by one, duly practising Social Distancing. We will allow you to make calls to your immediate family, from a common mobile, after you undergo the testing. Drop your mobiles, as you file out, in the basket provided for it, as we need to sanitise them as well. No questions. None will be answered.”
One by one, the assembled complied with the directions, and filed out. Ramaswami was crying and asked, “Sir, I just entered the shop. A couple of minutes ago. In fact, if I had not taken the circuitous route, I may have come and gone. I have no symptoms. I am healthy. I do not want to go through this exercise. I am scared I may contact Covid-19 during avoidable testing, as Dr. Devi Shetty suggests. Please Sir, let me go. I will runaway in a minute.”
“Shut up, go sit in your allotted seat in the bus. We are doing it for your own safety and health, and you were inside the venue, when we pulled down the shutters and that will do. And even if you had come and gone, we would have traced you and taken you in. So follow our instructions”.
Ramaswami acquiesced. In the meanwhile, not finding him, as lunch time approached, the family called his mobile and found it inside the house. They went in search of him. A Whatsapp message came “A gentleman on X Street was found to be Covid-19 positive. The Y Supermarket has been closed and sealed”. A visit to the supermarket confirmed it. The coconut water seller, in the corner of the street, updated that a Bus and jeep came, and several persons inside the supermarket, were rounded up and driven off. Putting two and two together, the family concluded that Ramaswami may have been among the ‘rounded up’. But they were hugely anxious.
As Ramaswami was getting into the bus, he tried to run off. He was chased by a policeman and received a couple of hefty lathi blows. “Sir, I promise I came in just a minute before you came. If I had seen you coming, I would not have stepped into the shop.” “You fool, we are all risking our lives and working 24×7 and you idiot is scared, to come for testing. You would be in quarantine for 2 weeks, in a safe and secure place, after being tested. You will be fed and given sanitised alternate clothing also. You can contact your family also and will be given access to your mobile, after it is sanitised.”
But, Ramaswami was not listening. He was wailing why he was in the midst of this torture for the simple sin of being at the wrong place for all of 2 minutes. No one was listening either. He was lathi bundled into his seat on the bus. Off the bus went, they were all tested and quarantined and it was 36 hours before the family got confirmation of Ramaswami’s whereabouts. Until then, it was hell for the family. Message from Ramaswami’s experience, is to each one of us.
Covid-19 alone is not killing. Contract Tracing is killing too. Of a different genre. Not physical, but mental. The torture that you and your family may have to go through is unimaginable. It is surely not worth the bread, cheese or banana. There would be absolutely no justification to blame the Covid-19 warriors on the front, middle and back lines. The police and officials who are ‘rounding up’ suspected symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals, are risking their lives. However, compassionate they may behave, and in the larger public interest, the traumatic experience that we may have to go through, if caught in the net, even accidentally, as Ramaswami was, is surely not worthwhile. Hold your tongue, tighten your stomachs and belts, and walk inside your house and Stay Home. Keep Safe. Think of those who do not have a home and lacking in resources too. The migrants, for one. Let us be grateful for the big not small mercies, we are blessed with, in these Social Distancing climes. You violate the Stay Home Lockdown retinue, at your own peril, if Contract Tracing comes calling. It is up to We The People to make the choice.
(Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan- Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)