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NEW DELHI — Shocking video obtained by BuzzFeed News shows workers in an uptown residential neighborhood in India being sprayed with unknown chemicals to “disinfect” them during a coronavirus lockdown.
The footage, filmed this week, shows people in an area close to Heera Panna, a neighborhood in south Mumbai. The man spraying them is carrying a container and a hosepipe usually used for pest fumigation. In the videos, a group of men can be seen being instructed to line up by a security guard.
The guard then directs the man with the hose toward the workers, who are then sprayed with liquid. At least two of the men in the line can be seen wearing a uniform typically worn by private residential staff. In one of the videos, a woman can be heard off camera saying, “They’re wearing handkerchiefs around their faces, they haven’t even been given a mask,” and then, “But how will this help?”
While the World Health Organization has released an extensive list of precautions to inhibit the spread of the coronavirus — such as physical distancing, frequently washing hands, disinfecting commonly used surfaces like doorknobs and handrails — the list does not include spraying people with disinfectant. Depending on the chemicals used in the spray, prolonged exposure could be highly toxic, cause burns, and damage eyesight.
A Mumbai resident who requested not to be identified shared the video with BuzzFeed News and confirmed that a man carrying a similar container with a hose visited her neighborhood as well. She said that she and other residents were asked to lock their doors and windows so that the liquid would not enter. It is unclear at this point whether the liquid used to disinfect common surfaces like railings and elevator buttons is the same as the one being sprayed on workers in the videos.
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Even as India has heightened its vigilance against the spread of the coronavirus with a nationwide lockdown, most measures have assumed a level of privilege. It is impossible for migrant workers, daily wage laborers, and others who work to keep the cities running to stay locked inside their houses and to stockpile food. After images of migrant workers leaving cities in a mass exodus went viral this week, several states have set up soup kitchens and encampments for them, but still, the suddenly hyper-visible working class — some of the only people who have to be outdoors to make a living — are being treated as a problem to be dealt with, rather than potential victims of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Days ago, a video of migrant workers being sprayed with chemicals in Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India, caused huge outrage online.
Supporters of the state’s government were quick to point out that the same measures were also being deployed in Kerala, a state in south India that has been praised on a BBC panel for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Kerala’s government was quick to clarify that the spray was only a mixture of soap and water.
So far, the full-body spray technique appears to have only been deployed on members of India’s working class — no such measures are being rolled out at a national level or have been observed in other countries as they respond to the coronavirus pandemic.