GANGTOK: It’s Wednesday, also known as Haat (market) Day in Pakyong. However, the picture is grim today, as the shops have been closed, barricades put up to curtail vehicular movement and police officials are making rounds of the Pakyong Bazaar for adherence to COVID-19 containment protocols.
Every previous Haat Day, with or without lockdown, one destitute person (we call him Kancha) was always early to the market and tuned out in the local breweries by midday. For years, Kancha – who doesn’t speak – has been Pakyong’s idea of charity, amusement and Haat Day help. With no possessions, home or family to claim him, Kancha has been on the streets ever since the locals have known him, sleeping in the Haat ghar with stray dogs, sometimes changing his location to the pavements when he is too drunk to reach “home”.
He takes Pakyong as his family and locals give him free food and booze. Kancha, in turn, helps people of Pakyong by carrying loads of vegetables from one place to another. He makes a dime or ten bucks through his labour, enough to celebrate Haat Day each week.
On Tuesday, Kancha was approached by a few locals to ferry some pre-Haat vegetables to the Haat ghar in Old Town Pakyong for the weekly market. Unusual for him, Kancha declined all requests by placing a hand on his forehead, signaling that he had fever. He then gestured body pain by crossing his arms. “I hope it’s not COVID!” someone from the crowd remarked.
Locals at the scene then informed the Pakyong Primary Health Centre, 100 metres from Kancha’s address at New Market. But before the ambulance could make that one turn to reach him, Kancha vanished. What followed next was a two-hour long manhunt across Pakyong Bazaar.
“We had no clue where he would go, so we alerted people in Pakyong Bazaar as well to help us find him. He could have been in the Haat ghar, which was an easy guess for us. But he knew we would look for him there. He was found after almost two hours and brought to Pakyong PHC. We conducted a RAT test on him to confirm his COVID status,” said a Health official from Pakyong.
With a still high COVID positivity rate in Sikkim, the health authorities now scrambled to find him an isolation centre.
“We were told that the Paljor Stadium COVID Care Center was overwhelmed with monks from Ranka testing positive. We finally took him to the Rhenock COVID Care Center, which is less crowded. So far, he has been doing ok,” another health official from Pakyong said.
Kancha, who tested positive in the afternoon, was the talk of the town by late evening, and the small Pakyong town was now rife with unsubstantiated rumours.
There were rumours that the entire Pakyong subdivision was put under lockdown. While a joke in a small town spreads faster than COVID-19, the official orders issued by the East District administration clarified that only Pakyong Bazaar, within a 2 km radius, was being contained for the next five days.
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Meanwhile, Naibutar village above Pakyong Bazaar recorded 48 new cases in the last few days. The locals had attended a marriage function, which allegedly resulted in the spread. By late evening, rumours around Kancha, containment and Naibutar village had convinced the quaint hill town that the ‘Delta Variant had been found’ in Pakyong.
As the fake news spread across Sikkim, the state Health Department was forced to issue a clarification on Tuesday evening: “We have not sent any Genome Testing report, so we cannot declare it to be Delta Variant. Please refrain from spreading fake news.”