Suspect patients to get the back of their hand stamped; doctors, activists call it ‘breach of privacy’

People suspected of contracting coronavirus and directed to self-isolate at home will get the back of their hand stamped to make sure they stay away from public places. It will say: “Home Quarantine; Proud to Protect Mumbaikars”.

This has raised the hackles of doctors and social activists who are calling it “breach of privacy”. The state government, however, is defending the move in view of the incidents of suspect patients either trying to run away or clandestinely boarding flights. There have also been incidents of persons suspected of being infected going out to vegetable markets and grocery stores.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Health Minister Rajesh Tope held a review meeting on Monday with civic and health officials and discussed a slew of new measures, including the stamp. A health ministry official said, “Those who have been asked to quarantine themselves at home would be stamped on their left hand for easy identification in public places. The idea is to make sure they are aware that isolation is the best way to prevent the infection.”

Mirror probed several government officials but didn’t find any satisfactory answers. There seems to be no clear way forward on implementing this measure. According to many it is the government’s duty to withhold the identity of those infected by the virus. Activists said with the stamp the same people would be in the public glare. The right way to do it is to raise awareness about how not to infect others, they said. There are 621 people who are in self-isolation and 108 have been quarantined in government hospitals.

Reacting sharply on the move, health activist Vinod Chavan said the identity of a patient or suspected patient has always been withheld. Even health issues are not discussed publicly. “In this case, stamping suspected patients goes against the basic rights of the citizens,” said Chavan, who works for Vikas Sahyog Pratisthan.

Some others are also raising a debate on breach of privacy versus larger public good. Dr Vivek Korde said it’s as harmful as social boycott but necessary in the current situation. “We have been reading reports on how people have run away from quarantine. In that case, the government is helpless and needs to take such measures,” he said.

Sudhir Badami, an informed citizen termed it a silly measure. “We have not reached a stage where we need to take such a drastic steps and create panic among citizens,” said Badami, adding that though the government has been proactive this is a counter-productive idea. A senior doctor who did not wish to be named said the measure is very vague and coercive. “We need a debate on privacy versus public good and coercion versus consent. A person being stamped has all the right to refuse it,” he said.