Social Media was set on fire when one Dr. Kamna Kakkar, a doctor supposedly at PGIMS, Rohtak in Haryana claimed that the doctors were not being provided with N95 masks and gloves by the authorities. In numerous tweets, she spread panic about the situation and portrayed a scenario where the situation was dire and the doctors were being forced to treat their patients without proper health equipment for themselves.
In her first tweet on the account, Kamna Kakkar said that when the N95 masks finally arrive, they should be sent to her graves. “Taali air thaali bhi baja dena wahaan (Clap and ring your plates there too),” she said in a tweet. Her tweet had received over nine thousand retweets as of the time of writing this report. Conspicuously enough, her account was created on Twitter in March 2020.
In another tweet, Kamna Kakkar claimed that the doctors weren’t given any personal protection equipment including N95 masks by the government. She tweeted, “No N95 masks, no HazMat suits, no face shields, nothing! Will these rich people help us? Can’t tag them all.” In a tweet on the 24th late in the night, Kama Kakkar said, “Doctor bhagwan nahi hain! (Doctors are not God!) Corona will attack us too! Please provide us N95 masks and hazmat suits ASAP and we will readily go to war with this virus! (And return victorious!)”.
Tweets by Kamna Kakkaar drew immense traction on social media and soon enough, it was quote-tweeted by the former Congress president Rahul Gandhi. The scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, who has been engaging in political blame-game regarding the unprecedented series of events, said, “I am feeling sad, because this was completely avoidable. We had time to prepare. We should have taken this threat much more seriously and have been much better prepared.”
Tweets by Dr Kamna Kakkar have created quite the storm on social media despite the fact that her account was created only this month. She is also followed by numerous prominent people on the social media platform which appeared suspicious to many. What bothered people most apart from her being followed by those who harbour a morbid hatred towards the Prime Minister was the fact that she had not provided information to those who had offered to help. Ketto had offered to help her crowdfund the equipment had sought her contact details but that wasn’t provided. An IPS officer, too, had offered to help but she had not replied to him either.
This doctor created this ID just a day before and got involved in anti-government propaganda. no surprise, @BDUTT started following her. Neither this woman is willing to give her information to Ketto for crowdfunding nor to the police administration. 🤷🏻♂️ pic.twitter.com/2JhsujektJ— Mikku HMP 🐼 (@effucktivehumor) March 24, 2020
People asked her why was she not responding to genuine offers of help under the circumstances she portrayed.
Why are you not responding to genuine help offers Dr Kamna ?— Vinod Kapri #IamStayingHome #DontGoOut (@vinodkapri) March 24, 2020
People also pointed out that contrary to claims of Kamna Kakkar of there being no masks, media reports are available from as early as the 6th of February which showed the staff wearing full PPE kit.
That doctor apparently works at PGI Rohtak. She/He/It is claiming that the staff doesn’t have masks. Here’s a pic and news from PGI Rohtak. This was Feb 6. Look at the staff – they’re wearing full PPE kit.https://t.co/j72bYxSX0S pic.twitter.com/LKNcQ8Mnle— Spaminder Bharti (@attomeybharti) March 24, 2020
There are other reports in the media that testify to the preparation undertaken by the authorities to combat the crisis. A report on The Tribune from the 18th of March says that Rs. 4.50 crore was allocated by the Haryana Government for the purchase of more ventilators and other equipment to augment the state’s ability to combat the crisis. In addition, the report stated that two more facilities were to be established at the government medical colleges in Karnal and Nalhar in Mewat to test for COVID-19 cases.
As per the report, the decision was taken at a videoconference chaired by Haryana Additional Chief Secretary (Medical Education and Research) Alok Nigam and was attended by Rohtak-based University of Health Sciences Vice-Chancellor OP Kalra, Registrar Dr HK Aggarwal, PGIMS Director Dr Rohtash K Yadav, Nodal Officer Dr Dhruv Chaudhary and the directors of other medical colleges. “State health authorities have also issued an advisory to provide medicines for 30 days instead of 15 days to patients suffering from chronic diseases requiring regular medication so as to reduce rush in OPDs,” said Dr Kalra.
One the 16th of March, the Hindustan Times published a report that said that PGIMS, Rohtak had already ordered 3.6 lakh masks of which 50,000 had already been delivered and the remaining were not at that particular point of time. Head of department of pulmonary and critical care medicine Dr Dhruva Chaudhary, who is supervising the battle against the Wuhan Coronavirus at PGIMS, said, “We have set up an isolation ward with quarantine facilities. The hospital staff are adhering to government guidelines. As many as 14 people came forward to get tested, so far none of them have received a positive result. Individuals with a travel history to affected countries have been put under observation. Initially, we had only been collecting samples but last week we setup a testing facility.” Another report on Times of India on the 20th of March said that the PGIMS, Rohtak had 116 ventilators thus far to deal with the crisis.
There has been a concerted attempt to cast aspersions on the efforts being made by the government to combat the crisis. As evidenced by Rahul Gandhi’s tweet and the traction Dr. Kamna Kakkar’s tweets have received on social media, at least some of the people levelling accusations against the government of not arranging for enough protective gear including N95 masks, are not doing so based on genuine intentions even if Kakkar’s tweets themselves have genuine intentions, even though there’s good reason to be suspicious about that.
On Monday, a Congress leader who happens to be a doctor by qualification had falsely claimed that healthcare workers in Assam Medical College are “forced” to cover themselves in plastic bags. He claimed that these plastic bags are the same ones that are used to carry biomedical waste. He alleged that there is a shortage of personal protection equipment (PPEs) in Assam Medical College. The dubious allegations were then spread further by the usual suspects. The lies were eventually called out by Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. He said that the claims were ‘highly motivated’ and a good number of PPE kits had been supplied to hospitals in the recent few days. He also informed that the Police has been directed to register an FIR regarding the matter.
The Government, too, in a press release on Monday, said, “It is unfortunate that certain sections of the media are spreading misinformation on the efforts of the Government in augmenting the supplies of Body Coveralls, N-95 Masks, and 2-ply/3-ply Surgical Masks required for healthcare professionals dealing COVID-19 cases.” The statement said further, “Ministry of Health & Family Welfare finalised the technical requirement on 2nd March 2020, based on the indigenous availability of materials and the technical requirement for a high level of protection of the healthcare professionals who would deal with the COVID-19 cases, in consultation with medical experts in the field.”
It continued, “The specification was published on the official website of HLL Lifecare Ltd on 5th March 2020, inviting manufacturers having adequate capability to participate in the procurement process. So far, proto type garments of six Indian manufacturers have passed the prescribed tests conducted at SITRA, and two more manufacturers are forthcoming as on date. In addition, more and more manufacturers have been invited to offer their proto type samples, and come forward to meet the requirement of the government.” The statement also said that the supply has already begun.
The statement said further, “Government has issued orders banning of exports on all personal protective equipment including Body Coveralls, N-95 Masks, 2-ply/3-ply Surgical Masks on 31st January 2020. On request from the industry, and on the assurance that adequate supply of 2-ply/3-ply Surgical Masks at reasonable prices would be ensured, Government lifted the ban on exports of Surgical Masks on 8th February. However, the ban on exports was re-imposed on 19th March 2020, on all 2-ply/3-ply Surgical Masks and the raw materials required for manufacture of such products. The export ban on Body Coveralls and N-95 Masks has since been in force since 31st January 2020, a fact in contravention to the misleading information published in the media.”
Thus, tweets of Dr. Kamna Kakkar and the manner in which they have gained traction on social media, with even Rahul Gandhi commenting on it, appear to be part of a concerted campaign to spread panic in the midst of this crisis. As we have mentioned earlier in the report, media reports suggest that PGIMS, Rohtak is well prepared as of now to handle the Wuhan Coronavirus crisis. She has also deleted extremely misleading tweets she has made late into the night. When combined with the fact that she has not responded to genuine offers of help and bearing in mind that Himanta Biswa Sarma has directed the Police to file an FIR against a Congress leader for spreading fake news regarding the shortage of medical equipment, Kakkar’s tweets do appear to be part of a concerted attempt to fuel panic in times of crisis.
We tried to reach out to the authorities for a comment on the matter but were unable to. We will update our report with their comments as and when we receive it.