Pandemic sparks foreigner phobia in Assam

Meghalaya suspends Assembly’s Budget session, Nagaland bars entry of tourists

Published - March 16, 2020 08:27 pm IST - GUWAHATI

Railway workers wearing masks on their way to duty in Guwahati railway station on Monday, March 16, 2020.

Railway workers wearing masks on their way to duty in Guwahati railway station on Monday, March 16, 2020.

Fears of COVID-19 have triggered foreigner phobia in Assam, one of the States that is yet to report a confirmed case of the virus infection.

A day after a Swiss couple was heckled in western Assam’s Dhubri, people in central Assam’s Nagaon district raised an alarm when three French cyclists neared their village. The trio had come from Myanmar via Manipur and Nagaland.

Watch | COVID-19: Dos and don'ts from the Health Ministry

“This happened when the cyclists reached a village near Kathiatoli on Sunday evening,” a local police officer said on Monday. “We stopped them under public pressure and sent them to the civil hospital for a health check,” added the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

For want of any other vehicle, the trio were made to board a mini truck and sent to the hospital where doctors said they neither had fever nor cough and did not show any symptoms of any disease.

On Saturday, the police in Dhubri had to rescue a couple from Switzerland from local people who believed they were carriers of the virus. The couple had booked a room at an ashram belonging to a temple on the banks of the Brahmaputra in the town.

On March 12, a Greek woman had a difficult time in Majuli, a sandbar on the Brahmaputra, when she was refused transport by local three-wheeler transport operators for fear of contracting COVID-19. A Spanish man also had a tough time that day when hotels in southern Assam’s Silchar refused him a room.

“We appeal to the people to exercise restraint,” said Jayanta Malla Baruah, chairman of Assam Tourism Development Corporation. “We cannot let the fear of a virus harm the hospitable image of Assam,” Mr. Baruah added.

Read: Assam sanitises route taken by U.S. tourist

Foreign tourists are not the only ones to face harassment. In Dhubri district, for instance, some villages have turned against those who have returned from Kerala, Mumbai, Bengaluru and other States following the outbreak of COVID-19 there.

“We have tracked a few such returnees and tested the health of their families,” sub-divisional health officer A.K. Azad told newspersons. “They have all tested negative,” he added.

Teachers for awareness

Apart from schools, cinema halls, gyms and sports facilities , the Assam government on Monday ordered the closure of all national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and Guwahati’s zoo till March 31.

“We have set up a COVID-19 testing laboratory each in the medical colleges of Guwahati, Dibrugarh and Jorhat,” Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said, adding that none of the more than 600 people checked so far had tested positive.

He also said that the teachers of all State-run schools and colleges, shut till March 29 as a precautionary measure, had been entrusted with creating awareness in the villages. “We are utilising their break from teaching for awareness, which is of utmost importance in keeping coronavirus at bay,” he added.

Among those who have been quarantined in hospitals on the suspicion that they may be infected are two Nigerians, who had entered the country from Bangladesh. The two have been admitted to the isolation ward of Karimganj Civil Hospital in southern Assam.

Assembly session deferred

Barring Manipur, which had taken the lead, all the north-eastern States on Monday ordered the closure of educational institutions and other public facilities where a large number of people gather as a step for “beating the virus”.

Meghalaya Assembly Speaker Metbah Lyngdoh on Monday suspended the Budget session of the 60-member House indefinitely. The session, which began on March 13, was originally scheduled to run till March 25.

The House would, however, sit briefly on March 19 for transacting some important business.

In Nagaland, the government barred the entry of all domestic and foreign tourists indefinitely and decided to stop issuing inner-line permits. Schools in Nagaland will also remain closed till April 12.

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