COVID-19: Stigma unplugged

AMWJU has to deliberate on developing a Standard Operating Procedure for journalists working in the field and at the workplace, and social contact as well to ward off discrimination and stigma.

There is certainly a murmur among the ranks of the journalist community in the state and general public as well about the COVID-19 status of those media persons who attended the press conference addressed by the Chief Minister N Biren Singh himself on that fateful day of July 22, at the CM Secretariat. It was on that day a National Health Mission staff, who later tested positive, had entered the COVID-19 Control Room housed in the Durbar Hall of the Chief Minister’s Secretariat. The positive status of the staff, who sat and worked in the Control Room for about 30 minutes, became known on July 25 only. The rest is history. The chief minister had called the press conference to announce complete lockdown of the whole state for a week, in view of the rising number of positive cases among persons with no travel history, after a cabinet meet. Initially, most of the COVID-19 positive cases were among persons who had returned to the state from various parts of the country after the outbreak of the dreaded novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Durbar Hall in the Secretariat was declared a containment zone by the Deputy Commissioner Imphal West, while all staff including security personnel posted at the CM Secretariat had to undergo COVID-19 tests of both Rapid Antigen and RT-PCR in the same evening and the next day. They all tested negative. Next, came the turn of the media persons who attended the said press conference. These media persons were tested as per the protocol on July 26 at the RD Wing at Lamphelpat as organised by All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union (AMWJU). All of them tested negative with Rapid Antigen. But, the damage had already been done. There are reports of staff members of the CM Secretariat facing discrimination and stigmatisation at home, locality and other places in view of the July 22 incident. Likewise, the journalists who attended the press conference are facing the same music at home, locality and workplace. According to reports, they are facing harassment and social stigmatisation at workplaces also. This is most unfortunate. According to standard protocol, persons who were tested negative after possible contact with a COVID-19 positive person has to undergo 7 to 14 days home quarantine. This is practically impossible among the media fraternity, as most of the media houses are understaffed and shift working is non-existent. This is where the role of AMWJU comes in. It has to deliberate on developing a Standard Operating Procedure for journalists working in the field and at the workplace, and social contact as well to ward off discrimination and stigma.

Meanwhile, it has become imperative for the CM Secretariat to issue a standard protocol for persons visiting the Secretariat, as it is the nerve-centre of the governance and all COVID-related activities in the state. The chief minister himself is a hands-on person as he wants to personally monitor all COVID-19 related activities in the state, which is why he chose to situate the COVID-19 Control Room in the CM compound itself in the first place. That much is appreciated. But, whatever differences we may have with the incumbent chief minister himself in terms of politics and governance, he is still the chief minister and he is the most important person in the state and one who is handling the COVID-19 crisis. In fact, he is the most important person, whose health is of prime importance and top priority. His and the heath of and all ministers in his government is of utmost importance in combatting the health crisis we are facing today. Till recently, we heard the COVID-19 Control Room has become active again, after the containment of the said Control Room has been deactivated after due decontamination procedures. This is most unacceptable.

First Published:Aug. 1, 2020, 7:22 a.m.

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