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14% of symptomatic people traced in Delhi door-to-door survey not tested for Covid

An estimated 57 lakh people have been surveyed as part of the exercise, of which 13,516 are symptomatic. But survey teams are encountering much suspicion & reluctance on ground.

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New Delhi: Fourteen per cent of the people found symptomatic during the Delhi government’s door-to-door survey over the past week were not tested for Covid-19, ThePrint has learnt. 

The Delhi government’s door-to-door survey for Covid-19 began Thursday last week. It was supposed to end Wednesday but it has now been extended following requests from some districts. 

As the capital grapples with a third Covid wave, the survey has seen officials of its 11 districts fan out across hotspots to gauge the ground situation as well as identify patients who have not been diagnosed.

As part of the survey, those found to have coronavirus symptoms are being asked to take a Covid test. Officials then conduct follow-ups to ensure they have got themselves tested.

Results of the exercise so far were shared by district officials with the Delhi government Wednesday evening. Officials who attended the meeting said 57 lakh people were surveyed during the week, of which 13,516 were found to be symptomatic.

Survey data from 19 to 25 November
Survey data from 19 to 25 November

Of these, 11,790 were tested for Covid-19. Their test results are yet to be tabulated since samples are still pending in laboratories, the officials said. 

Among the remaining symptomatic people, several people refused to get tested, government officials added, saying they had to warn some with forced quarantine to get them to agree.

“Many a time, we have to follow up, tell residents that they will be shifted to a quarantine centre in the area. It was only after this that some agreed to get tested,” a booth-level officer in Southeast district said. 

The resistance the government teams encountered in some pockets was witnessed first hand by ThePrint as it accompanied two groups conducting the survey in Southeast Delhi through all of Tuesday. 

One factor stoking concern among some residents was that a few members of the teams didn’t have a government ID. But others — especially in one upscale locality visited by this reporter — seemed to resist the survey because they saw it as an invasion of privacy.

Also Read: Despite doctors’ objections, Delhi govt hospitals prepare to hire MBBS students for Covid duty

With the survey teams

Of the two teams this reporter trailed in Southeast Delhi, one included three members while the other had four. The members included a municipal corporation teacher, civic agency employees, and civil defence volunteers. The teams were deputed from different voter centres, with booth-level officers in charge of executing the survey.

Their tools in the survey included a questionnaire seeking to know the respondent’s name, address, telephone number, and if someone has or had Covid-19 in the household, if anyone has flu-like symptoms, number of members in the household, and if they have the Aarogya Setu app on their phones, among other things. 

Each team carried a thermal scanner to measure temperature, an oximeter to measure blood oxygen levels, and sanitiser. Besides wearing masks and gloves, each member also covered their heads with protective gear.  

In the first week of the survey, a total of 4,49,500 residents of the district participated in the exercise, administration officials said. Of these, 379 were found to be symptomatic.

Also Read: Delhi reports highest number of cases in 24 hours, India’s recovery rate stands at 93%

In Defence Colony

At one of the houses in the upscale neighbourhood of Defence Colony, a couple in their 50s stood in their balcony, smoking cigars.

When the survey team approached them, they said from the balcony that they won’t share their telephone numbers since they didn’t want to be “bothered unnecessarily”. “There is no Covid-19 patient in our household,” said the man, folding his hands in a gesture of exasperation. 

Reluctance to participate was a phenomenon the team encountered through the A, C and D blocks of Defence Colony — the areas where this reporter accompanied the team. 

One woman and her mother asked the team to take permission from the Resident Welfare Association before “ringing the bell of households”. 

In some cases, said Bijender Singh, a civic agency employee, “the guards would send us away or, if we requested, share owners’ details as owners wouldn’t come out”. 

Some, however, had a genuine concern in the absence of IDs among members of the survey team.

“It’s a democracy, how can you ask me for information like this, do you have an ID?” a woman in her 40s said, peeping from a window of her first-floor house. 

The lack of IDs was a matter of concern for members of the team too. 

Sheila, a municipal corporation teacher on duty in Defence Colony, said she wasn’t “provided with any ID for the survey”. “I am a relatively new teacher so I haven’t been issued an ID by the MCD either,” she said. 

A 19-year-old civil defence volunteer on the team said she didn’t have any ID to show either. 

Reached for comment Tuesday on the absence of IDs, Southeast Delhi District Magistrate Vishvendra Singh said they hadn’t “been issued IDs from the top” for the survey. “Usually, these people have their own IDs, so we thought those would suffice,” he added. 

When told that many team members didn’t have that either, he directed officials to carry a copy of the written government orders on the survey. 

At ‘Madrasi Camp’, near Lajpat Nagar

A different trend emerged when the survey team reached ‘Madrasi Camp’ or ‘Madrasi Basti’, a colony of residents from the lower economic strata. Located near Lajpat Nagar, the colony is known so because it is inhabited by many migrants from South India. 

There appeared to be a frighteningly low level of awareness about social distancing and Covid-prevention measures here, with children gathering in large groups to play badminton or hide-and-seek without any masks.

Many residents thought the survey team was actually out to conduct tests, and ushered them towards their homes. 

When asked to place her finger in an oximeter, one woman thought the machine would test her for Covid-19.

Also Read: Why Delhi’s third Covid wave is seeing late admissions, longer hospitalisation

Teams not briefed properly 

While the residents’ reluctance was a matter of concern, some team members also appeared to be ill at ease in their role — not clear enough about their brief to explain the purpose of the survey to residents. 

Asked about the aim of the survey by residents, some team members fumbled and claimed ignorance, saying they were just asking questions they had been directed to. 

“Our BLO passed on this pro forma and we were asked to fill it up, nothing more was shared,” said a civil defence volunteer on duty. 

Importantly, the teams that ThePrint accompanied didn’t ask any household if they had come in contact with a Covid-19 patient recently. The survey teams faced hassles in other districts as well.

Talking about the challenges faced during Covid-control exercises, administration officials laid the blame with people for failing to cooperate with their efforts.

“While it is natural to witness people not cooperating during surveys, Delhiites, in particular, seem to not take rules seriously,” said Northwest District Magistrate Chestha Yadav. 

The officer, who has earlier served as district magistrate in Arunachal Pradesh, said she sought permission to extend the survey by a day because the 2,200 people found symptomatic — out of 9.15 lakh surveyed — hadn’t finished getting tested yet. 

West District Assistant District Magistrate Dharmendra Singh expressed frustration about what he described as people’s general disrespect for rules. People who break rules are “incorrigible”, he said. 

According to him, multiple shops were sealed in the district after officials noticed violations of social distancing guidelines during the Diwali week. 

“The rising mortality rate is a reflection of the careless attitude of people,” he said. Around 7.15 lakh people were surveyed in the district by Wednesday evening, of which 1,330 were found to be symptomatic. 

Jugal Kishore, head of community medicine at Safdarjung Hospital, said participation “of people is a must” during such exercises. 

“Such a vast exercise cannot be completed without cooperation from residents, as it makes people doubt government data then,” he added.

Asked about the seeming reluctance of some people to get tested, Anant Bhan, a researcher in global health, bioethics and health policy, said it was worrisome, but added that “it is important to respond to the anxiety among people about getting tested”. 

“It could be good to perhaps also offer testing with the survey, so that testing can happen at the same time rather than wait for it to be followed up on later,” Bhan added. 

Among other districts, 878 of 3.61 lakh people surveyed so far have been found to be symptomatic in Shahdara, said District Magistrate Sanjeev Kumar. In North District, over 500 of the 4.17 lakh people surveyed were symptomatic, while the number was 2,744 of 7.4 lakh respondents in East Delhi.

Absence of home quarantine stickers a hindrance

Another hurdle faced by district officials in their Covid-control efforts is the absence of posters identifying households with coronavirus patients — a system discontinued by the Delhi government on 8 October to prevent stigma for patients. 

“A lot of people have taken advantage of this and conveniently stepped out of their homes even if there is a coronavirus patient in their houses,” said a district surveillance officer in Shahdara. 

Added South Delhi District Magistrate Ankita Chakravorti, “While there was a lot of ostracisation when the posters were there, neighbours and those in the colony were more alert and cautious.” 

In West Delhi, officials said shopkeepers had told them about a person who lived with his grandfather, a Covid-19 patient in home isolation, but routinely stepped out to get groceries from the local market. 

“It’s a circle, anyone stepping out from the household can be a carrier and in turn could be infecting the shop owner. Family members also need to quarantine,” said Assistant District Magistrate, West, Dharmendra Singh.

Also Read: Delhi govt is testing-tracing, but Covid third wave means people have to be responsible too


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