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Protesting farmers 'unwilling' to undergo COVID-19 test, says medical officer

Protesters fear they would be isolated if found positive, says the officer

Farmers protest blocking a highway at the Singhu border between Delhi and Haryana  | AP Farmers protest blocking a highway at the Singhu border between Delhi and Haryana | AP

With the shadow of coronavirus looming large over protest sites, the Sonipat district administration is offering testing facility to farmers protesting the Centre's new agri laws but most of them are "unwilling" to get tested, fearing they would be isolated if found positive and this would "weaken" their agitation.

Farmers' leaders said the new farm laws pose a "greater threat" to the lives of protesters than COVID-19.

Thousands of farmers have been camping at Delhi's different border points for over two weeks, demanding a repeal of the three agriculture reform laws.

Senior Medical Officer (Sonipat) Anvita Kaushik, who is also the in-charge of medical facilities at the Singhu border protest site, said despite her team's "best efforts", farmers are not willing to get tested for COVID-19.

"Our district's medical vans and teams have been deployed at Singhu border. They (protesters) are getting medicines from us for cough, fever and other health problems, but are are unwilling to undergo COVID-19 test," Kaushik told PTI.

The district medical officer said the ongoing protests by farmers, only a few of whom wear face masks, not only pose a threat to their lives but also to those of hundreds of workers of various factories located on the Delhi-Sonipat road.

She said the administration has been distributing masks among the protesters so that they can protect themselves against coronavirus.

However, Bhartiya Kisan Union Ekta (Ugrahan) Punjab general secretary Sukhdev Singh said farmers don't want to "create a problem" by undergoing COVID-19 test.

He said farmers have come to Delhi to protest against the new farm laws and not for coronavirus testing.

Asked why most farmers are not willing to undergo COVID-19 test, Singh said, "If some farmers test positive, the government will have a reason to isolate them and that will only weaken our agitation against the new farm laws.

"We have been protesting for over five months and coronavirus cannot stop us from raising our voices."

Two DCP-rank officers of the Delhi Police overseeing security arrangements at Singhu border have tested positive for COVID-19. Both of them are in isolation.

The farmers worry the new farm laws will eliminate the safety net of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) system and do away with mandis that ensure earning. But the government says the MSP system will continue and the new laws will give farmers more options to sell their crops.

The farmers have rejected a government offer to amend the farm laws and give a "written assurance" on continuing the MSP system. They have also threatened to block railway tracks across the country and all highways leading to Delhi if the farm laws are not repealed. 

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