NEW DELHI :
With several reports now emerging that people suspected of coronavirus infection are fleeing from quarantine facilities in India owing to isolation and social stigma fears, this can lead to unnecessary panic and spread of the deadly disease further, health experts warned on Monday.
Eleven persons suspected of coronavirus fled from a hospital in Maharashtra's Navi Mumbai on Monday. They were kept in isolation and their test results were awaited. The suspects have a travel history to Dubai.
Panic gripped Nagpur as four suspected coronavirus patients ran away from a government-run hospital late last week.
"That is true because most of the people are afraid of being isolated, which is the biggest hidden danger of COVID-19. Many people have been quarantined in their own houses but the fear that they can infect many others is also traumatizing for them," Dr Rakesh Chawla, Senior Consultant, Respiratory Medicine, Saroj Super Speciality Hospital, Delhi, told IANS.
"One of the major fears that imbibe various suspected patients to skip screening is that they are termed as 'people spreading the virus', which has stigmatised in a society rapidly, which should be stopped," Chawla added.
The number of coronavirus positive cases in India has risen to 110, with two deaths so far.
In the neighbouring Sri Lanka, anyone found hiding symptoms of the novel coronavirus will be handed a six-month jail term, as there were individuals who had avoided going into quarantine centres after arriving from virus-affected countries.
According to Dr Neha Dutt, Counselling Psychologist, Dharamshila Narayana Super Speciality Hospital, right information and proper knowledge can initially defeat fear.
"If the thought of isolation or quarantine is making them scared then we surely need to spread awareness and clarity regarding isolation and quarantine which will initially remove the fear related to it as simple as that," Dutt told IANS.
It is unfortunate, she said, to come across news reports about people fleeing from the quarantine facilities.
"In the first place, it is our basic and social responsibility on a personal level to avoid crowded places and make the distance from other people around if we are infected, and that applies to every infectious disease. Talking about fear, it can be called just "fear of the unknown" that creates panic," she elaborated.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA Saurabh Bhardwaj on Monday said if the COVID-19 suspects are running away, they should not be blamed. Instead, all governments should focus on building trust that suspects and corona positive will be treated with dignity.
"If suspects are running away, don't blame them. Imagine the worst conditions or harassment they would have faced," the AAP spokesperson tweeted.
As seen from the recent data in India, the stigma attached to COVID-19 and the fear of isolation may be the reasons for people shying away from being diagnosed.
"Such hurdles will only add to the ongoing situation and potential difficulty in controlling the epidemic," warned Chawla.
Patients need to be calm down and doctors should offer friendly and cooperative behaviour, easing off patient's anxiety by giving them correct information based on facts.
"Quarantine is just for the sake of treatment and risk-free life, hence one should follow the doctor's instructions," added Dutt.
This situation has to be tackled very politely as everyone is afraid.
"The positive and friendly attitude of healthcare workers is the key to improve the outcome. Else, corona patients will only run away," said Chawla.