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Policemen remain unfazed amid COVID-19 scare in Bhopal

They remain resilient despite 19-hour work days with high risk of contracting the virus

Policemen at the Jahangirabad Police Station, whose six members have been hospitalised after contracting COVID-19, remain unusually unfazed. Their faces refuse to betray the lack of sleep, unending duty hours and the daunting task of screening people on roads at a time when a local outbreak looms over Bhopal.

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Assistant Sub Inspector of Police R.K. Singh plopped himself in a chair inside, keeping at least a metre’s distance from his colleagues sitting around a table. “What is there to fear while serving the public? Even if it’s death in line of duty, we are ready to accept it,” he said.

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Unflagging morale

Although the disease has caused the hospitalisation of the City Superintendent of Police Alim Khan as well as the police station’s in-charge, the morale of other policemen, including juniors, remains unruffled. The 19 hours of duty — manning barricades and patrolling in vehicles to ensure the lockdown is complied with — has failed to take a toll on them.

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“We get to sleep for just three hours. And I return home only to take a bath,” said Mr. Singh, 55, while sprinkling hand sanitiser on his shoes, a ritual he performs at least five times a day. “It is inevitable to face the threat of falling ill now while working in a congested area like this. In fact, I would say if you don’t fall ill, you didn’t perform your duty well,” he chuckles.

Different officials may use the same vehicles, sit in the same chairs and use the same protective face masks at different times during the day. “And you don’t know who is carrying the infection,” he said. Only one of the infected policemen is above the age of 60 years.

“Young boys in uniform are spindly and lack a strong immune system. They can’t take pressure and long working hours,” a constable chipped in.

Violators of orders

The crime rate remains unaffected, said Mr. Singh, only their nature had changed. “There are violators of prohibitory orders now. And no pickpockets. Who will they target anyway when there’s barely anyone on the roads?” he asked.

As efforts to contain the virus spread initially focussed on Indore, where 16 persons have already succumbed to it, the attention has shifted to Bhopal now, where 76 fresh cases were recorded in the past four days. More than 40 health workers, and more than 12 policemen and their family members, have mainly borne the brunt.

The police estimate its officials had become ill after coming into contact with around 20 members of the Tablighi Jamaat who tested positive, including four of them in Jahangirabad.

Containment areas

With 23 containment areas drawn up and a total lockdown imposed in the city, locals mostly remain indoors. Only to get LPG cylinders refilled, withdraw cash from banks or perhaps desperately look for a provisions store do they step out.

On Hanuman Jayanti on Wednesday, the temple in the New Market, which witnesses thousands of devotees thronging to it on the day each year, reopened to the public briefly after two weeks. Scarcely anyone turned up, and those who did offered prayers while standing outside. “We have to be cautious everywhere, be it a temple or home,” said Gaurav Garg, who owns a shop selling spare automobile parts, while carrying his two-year-old daughter in his arm.

The temple’s manager, Yogendra Singh Rajput, pointed to a hand sanitiser bottle kept on his table inside. “We don’t want to upset devotees, but at the same time stick to the coronavirus guidelines. Social distancing is the key in combating this disease.”

Deserted roads

Roads remain deserted in Char Imli, the residential enclave of bureaucrats where the Principal Secretary of Family Welfare and Health, who has also contracted COVID-19, resides. “Sahab logo ne hume ghar aane se mana kar diya hai (Officers have asked us not to come to their homes),” said Inder Kumar of neighbouring Priyadarshini Nagar, where gardeners and domestic help of the bureaucrats live.

“They fear we might be the carriers of the disease,” he said, “but we fear them instead. It’s a rich man’s disease afterall.” The slum’s Sanjeevani clinic, an urban public healthcare centre, remains shut as its doctors are part of the team tracing contacts of the city’s patients.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 12:19:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/policemen-remain-unfazed-amid-covid-19-scare-in-bhopal/article31291633.ece

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