On April 30, Dr Narendra Gupta, the Chief Medical Officer of Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad district, appealed to all Residents’ Welfare Associations (RWAs) to request doctors and paramedics, who work in Delhi hospitals, to not return home as they could be potential carriers of coronavirus.
On May 5, this request stirred a controversy after Municipal Commissioner of Ghaziabad forwarded his appeal to the concerned RWAs for implementation. Several doctors and residents from across the country opposed the circular, calling it insensitive.
Dr Gupta issued a clarification on May 7 in which he said that he did not intend to hurt anyone’s sentiments as the appeal should have been seen in context of the current situation which prompted him to do so. He spoke to Outlook and expressed his regret on the entire incident. Here are the edited excerpts.
Q: Why did your office issue a circular which is highly insensitive and discriminatory against healthcare workers?
Let me explain you the background of the circular. Our ground surveillance team reported many COVID-19 positive cases which spread through healthcare professionals. The district witnessed a sudden spurt in numbers. So, we decided to ask RWAs to humbly request the healthcare workers to stay closer to the hospitals where they work so that the spread can be contained.
Q: Was the spurt in COVID-19 positive cases in Ghaziabad due to healthcare professionals?
That’s what our team working at the ground level reported. It is not something very unusual. I am also a doctor and leading a team of healthcare professionals. None of us are going home. I haven’t been able to meet my family for the past few days because I am staying away from them. I am afraid that even a small lapse can spread the infection to them. We have been working in an infected environment all this while. I have been arranging alternative accommodation for my whole team. They are also not going home. This is the sacrifice we are making for the nation.
Q: But it is a choice that should be left to healthcare professional. Should we force them to stay away from their families?
Yes, you are right. It is up to healthcare professionals whether they want to go home or not. We cannot ask them to stay away from their families. I am just giving you an example of how we are taking precautions and maintaining social distancing. A doctor should take extra precautions so that the infection does not spread further.
Q: There have been many reports of attacks on healthcare professionals across the country as many people believe that they spread the virus. Don’t you think it will further provoke them and send a wrong message to others? Isn't your appeal a damaging step?
I did not intend to provoke residents against healthcare professionals. I admit it was a knee-jerk reaction out of our concern to stop the spread. We thought that this could be a reasonable solution. There might be some rumours which created a misconception among people. We asked the residents to request sympathetically and humbly to doctors. We never asked any association to ban entry of doctors. I and the district administration stand firmly behind every doctor.
Q: Even if we admit that a few people might have contracted the virus due to the carelessness of some healthcare professional, do you think it can be generalised? Why didn’t you speak to the doctors or their representative bodies to resolve the issue in a consultative manner?
Yes, I admit that we should have addressed it differently. I have already clarified that no resident shall discriminate against healthcare professionals for any reason. I have issued a clarification as well that the circular is not binding on any RWA. It was purely advisory in nature. It was just a humble request. They don’t need to follow that.