A team of health workers, who had gone to collect swab samples from locals at the Poonthura fishing hamlet near Thiruvanthapuram on Friday, were allegedly abused and coughed at by some agitated residents, PTI reported. Poonthura is one of the coronavirus hotspots in Kerala.

The crowd forced the team to lower their car window and spat on those inside the vehicle, unidentified officials of the Indian Medical Association told the news agency. All four health workers have been asked to go into quarantine.

The villagers had come out on the streets protesting on Friday morning, alleging that they were facing isolation from society due to media reports of high numbers of cases there. Hundreds of demonstrators refused to wear masks, and some of them alleged that doctors at some hospitals had refused to treat them for any illness. At least 31,985 people live in the containment zone at Poonthura.

It was at the time of the protest that the health workers arrived in Poonthura. One of the doctors said the team was unaware of any protests.

“There were people all around our car,” she told NDTV. “People were agitated, shouting and abusing. I told the driver not to roll down the window under any circumstances. People were banging the windows.”

However, since the car was unable to move ahead, the driver opened the window in the hope of pacifying the protestors. “One of the men stuck his head inside the car and coughed at us saying, “If we have Covid, you should have it too”,” the doctor said.

Commando teams and around 500 police personnel have been deployed in Poonthura to control the situation.

Kerala chief minister blames Opposition; IMA registers protest

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Health Minister KK Shailaja condemned the attack. Vijayan blamed the Opposition. “Our health workers are in the battlefield consciously knowing that they can get affected anytime and are fighting the spread of the pandemic,” Vijayan said. “They were prevented from entering the place. Some people are making the locals do the same. We can see the hands of the Opposition parties behind this.”

He alleged that workers of the Opposition United Democratic Front were responsible. “A Youth Congress leader campaigned through WhatsApp against the antigen tests, saying the test was useless and would spread the virus,” said Vijayan. “He also claimed that the test was just to create fear among the people and due to enmity towards Poonthura natives.” Vijayan warned of strong action against anyone who spreads fake news.

Shailaja called the incident “most unfortunate” and added that the health workers were putting their lives at risk to help people. She said that the village has more than 5,500 people over the age of 60, and 2,250 children below five years of age. “Protests can be held, but following the Covid-19 health protocol,” she added.

The Indian Medical Association registered a strong protest against the incident. “At a time when health workers are risking their lives to help others to tide over the Covid-19 situation, it is unfortunate such an incident has occurred,” the association said.

Thiruvananthapuram on Friday recorded 129 cases, the highest in a single day since the pandemic began. Of these, contacts of 122 people have been traced, and the majority of them are from Poonthura.

The tally in Kerala stood at 6,950 as of Saturday afternoon, including 27 deaths, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

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