The Indian state with the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country started stamping the hands of people flying into the country from abroad with indelible ink earlier this week to prevent community transmission of the virus.
The ink, which only wears off over time, states the date until which the person should remain quarantined at home. The default period is 14 days. India also uses this ink to mark voters’ fingers during elections as proof of having voted.
Authorities believe that leaving a visible stamp on people’s hands right below the knuckles will encourage them to stay home and help others notice if they venture out in public.
“If such people go out, others can identify them as home quarantine patients. This is being done so that patients strictly observe home quarantine,” Rajesh Tope, the public health minister of Maharashtra, the state that decided to stamp people's hands, told Indian media.
The controversial move came after 11 people in the state who were in isolation awaiting their test results for the coronavirus escaped from a Mumbai hospital on Monday.
Some people were supportive and thought it was no different than being stamped at a nightclub.
But others were disturbed.
On Wednesday, passengers on an Indian train raised an alarm after seeing four people with quarantine stamps on their hands. According to local reports, railway authorities had the train make an unscheduled stop, removed the stamped people from the train, and took them to a government hospital, where they were allowed to leave after a doctor examined them for symptoms.
After authorities removed the passengers, the coach of the train they were traveling in was disinfected.
Despite the World Health Organization declaring the coronavirus a pandemic last week, the number of cases in India has remained surprisingly low. On Thursday, the country reported 173 cases and 4 deaths.
The WHO has praised India's efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak. On Thursday, the federal government banned all incoming international flights for a week starting March 22, directed states to make private offices and order people to work from home, and appealed to people over 65 and children under 10 to stay indoors.