Residents of Bengaluru who recently returned to the state and have been compulsorily quarantined at one of the city hotels have raised allegations of being approached by individuals to make payments to evade the 14-day quarantine.
Many of those staying at Diva Residency Hotel in central Bengaluru said they are unsure if this has been done in connivance with officials of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) or hotel staff.
The hotel management, however, would have to report a missing quarantined person if such an incident happens.
The quarantined inmates said after spending three nights at the hotel, many began to get restless as no BBMP official or medical staff came to conduct any test or provide further guidelines.
When an official was asked for a timeline, he simply told them he could get them out of the hotels for a price.
An audio recording of the conversation was accessed by News18 in which a person is heard asking a passenger to pay Rs 27,000 that would make up for the room charges i.e. Rs 18,200 for 14 days plus an additional Rs 4,200 x 2 (for a couple) as doctor’s fees.
The official (who according to the inmates goes by the name of D Krishna Gowda) assured them of helping them leave the place without any hassle. He said they would have to come back on the 12th day to get tested.
The doctor further said if they had high temperature when tested, they would be quarantined at the hotel for another 14 days.
Reacting to allegations of bribes being sought for getting people out of quarantine, BBMP Special Commissioner (Projects and Health) Ravikumar Surpur said if the complaints were verified, strict action would be taken against those found guilty.
"This is a very serious complaint. If that person can be named, I'll make sure he is suspended from his service. It is government policy -- nobody has the liberty to take a decision to send people back home. All these people who are quarantined get documented. Without a valid approval, nobody can send these people back home," said Surpur.
The inmates had other complaints as well. Many of them had opted for a low-cost accommodation at Rs 750 per night as they have to pay for it. However, while being taken to their destination in a bus, they were informed there were no low-cost rooms and were being brought to this hotel.
An inmate, who identified himself as Ashish, said, "On reaching the hotel, people were asked to pay different amounts. Some of us paid Rs 1,200, others Rs 1,500, while couples were asked to pay over Rs 2,000."
“We were told we would be tested, but no medical official came to visit us in the first three days. Today, a few medical staff came and only screened us. They even said that they would not be testing asymptomatic persons. Then what are we doing here?” he asked.
Anand and his wife, who reached Bengaluru from Nagpur in Maharashtra in a Rajdhani Express on May 16, were told they would not have to stay in the hotel for all the 14 days and would be allowed to leave if their samples test negative.
"This is a money-making racket. For everything we ask, right from water, tea or detergent, we have to pay double the amount -- Rs 30 for a bottle of water, Rs 20 for a cup of tea. First they said there was no AC in the rooms. Later, they said we would have to pay an extra Rs 400 if we want ACs,” said Anand who works as a digital marketing analyst in Bengaluru.
Those staying in quarantine at Manpho Bell Hotel near Majestic are faced with a worse situation. Despite paying for the compulsory quarantine, many of them complained about sub-standard quality if food, no change of linen in over five days and bad wifi connections.
Siva Reddy, a 27-year-old techie, came from Secunderabad on May 14. He was only informed about the mandatory institutional quarantine at the railway station. Following some arguments over the matter, Reddy had agreed to stay in the hotel after being convinced by Railway Inspector General of Police D Roopa.
Reddy was told a test would be done within two to three days. However, even after six days, no official has visited the hotel.
The hotels have also accommodated senior citizens, pregnant women and children below the age of 10. All these individuals have been officially exempted from undergoing institutional quarantine.
"Three days ago, they took swab tests of a few people belonging to the exempted category. Since then, they have not got back to us. We have no idea if anyone from there has tested positive or not. One of the inmates at the hotel had fever. The hotel manager gave him a paracetemol. We are now scared here," Reddy told News18.
According to BBMP officials, there is no fixed rule of when the test must be conducted. Surpur said conducting a test too early could prove to be a false negative.
"For inter-state travellers, coronavirus can be detected ideally if tested between the seventh and tenth day after their arrival in order to avoid a false negative. However, they (inmates) are under the misconception that they will be tested immediately and if found negative they can leave. That is the case only if they fall under the exempted category," he said.
With several complaints coming in, the civic body has set up an inspection squad to make the rounds of quarantine centres and hear out the inmates’ grievances.
"Hotels can charge only what the BBMP has prescribed -- in terms of taxation, food arrangements and so on. If anyone is charging beyond, action will be taken," said Surpur.