The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Neighbours fear to tread and breathe

Till Saturday, the children would play in the courtyard. But on Sunday, it was empty. Only two-and-a-half-year-old Avinabha and elder sister Amalasree, 5, were playing together.

Suddenly, neighbours are ostracising the family of Asitabha Purakayastha — the first Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) patient in the state — in Madhyamgram. The neighbours, who would visit the house twice a day, are now maintaining a “safe distance”.

Fear and panic have not only gripped the next-door neighbours, but have also forced people who live at the other end of the area to give the house a wide berth. Clueless as to how they should cope with the situation, some are keeping their doors and windows closed through the day, while others have gone to the civic office for suggestions.

Rathin Ghosh, chairman of Madhyamgram municipality, said: “I cannot suggest any precautionary measures, because no directive from either the district or health department has reached us so far.”

The Purakayastha family was trying to make the local people understand through the media that the situation was not so serious. “His condition is stable. We never noticed any fever from the first day. And all of us, including our children, Avinabha and Amalasree, are alright,” said Gunjan, Asitabha’s wife.

Those who live close to the Purakayastha family are at their wit’s end and are taking precautionary measures on their own.

Deepak Saha, who lives under the same roof, wrapped the iron gate of their verandah with two plastic sheets and has locked his family in, closing all the windows.

Asit Pal, a lawyer who lives in a two-storeyed house opposite the Purakayastha’s home, has been producing kerosene fumes in the belief that this will keep SARS away. “I live only a few feet from their house with my grandson and granddaughter. I have poured kerosene into the fuel tank of my generator set and started it. Kerosene fumes help kill the virus,” said Pal, adding: “I told my family members not to allow the children to go to the Purakayastha house.”

Nantu Har Chowdhury, who lives behind the Purakayastha house, said: “I won’t allow my children to enter the house and play with the kids of the Purakayastha family.”

Gautam Sarkar, a local youth who stood in front of the house, maintaining a “safe distance”, said: “All the neighbours will undergo blood tests as soon as possible. No instruction from the municipality has reached us yet. We will meet the chief medical officer of health.”

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