Coronavirus: Kashmir’s First Patient Flew With 78 to Kerala, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi, Chandigarh, before Landing in Srinagar

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by Masood Hussain

SRINAGAR: The elderly lady who tested positive for the Coronavirus on Wednesday was part of the 41 member group of pilgrims that had flown home on March 16. Authorities said they have located almost all the members of the group and they are under watch.

While the patient has been isolated for treatment in SKIMS, health authorities said they have kept six suspected cases in isolation as 14 are already in the hospital quarantine. Those in the isolation ward include two close relatives of the lady whose tests are awaited.

Khanyar locality has been sealed and cops prevent any movement into the locality or out of it. This photograph was taken on March 19, 2020, a day day after a lady detected positive for the frightening viral disease. KL Image Bilal Bahadur

“All other tests are negative,” Dr Farooq A Jan, the SKIMS Medical Superintendent said. “Results of five tests are awaited.”

In the Chest Disease that has been designated as the main centre for managing the Coronavirus cases in the chain of associated hospitals of Government Medical College, Srinagar, all the tests have proved negative, so far.

“Since March 14, we have admitted 22 suspected patients,” Dr M Salim Khan, the nodal officer for the GMC and associated hospitals said. “These include eight patients who were admitted today.”

Dr Khan said that so far seven patients were discharged as they lacked anything that could link them to the viral infection. “All others are admitted. All the tests are negative but we have eight new tests the results of which will come on Friday.” Dr Khan said almost six patients admitted so far have travel history of Saudi Arabia. However, none of them is linked to the group from which the patient was confirmed positive on Wednesday.

Doctors at the CD Hospital said they are facing a serious crisis as the people are not revealing their travel history. “This would help us manage the crisis better,” one senior doctor said. “People are avoiding telling the truth and that is a live wire, which can impact them and their families first and then result in community infection.”

No hospital has received a single case from a host of people who landed in Kashmir in the last few days and were quickly quarantined. “They are supposed to stay in quarantine and would require hospitalisation only if they turn symptomatic,” one senior doctor said.

Khanyar Case

Authorities, however, are busy in managing the Khanyar case in which the lady turned positive. The family has been asked to stay in self-quarantine for the time being. In two cases, however, the contacts have been moved to the hospital.

“We started working on it late last midnight,” Dr Manzoor Ahmad Qadri, who is the health department’s nodal officer for the Coronavirus in Kashmir, said. “We are tracing the members of the group and the people in the aircraft with whom the lady shared the travel space.” Efforts to reach him late in the evening to check if they have been traced them failed.

Outside view of SKIMS Srinagar.

Outside view of SKIMS Srinagar.

Authorities on Thursday rushed 21 groups of doctors to Khanyar locality to assess the situation after the detection of an infected case. They were seen moving from door to door, especially in the lady’s neighbourhood, to check if anybody has a problem. They also saw the families in the neighbourhood of the patient and also visited a number of guesthouses and met the promoters.

The entire locality remained sealed for the entire day with the effective presence of the police and paramilitary men. There were concertina drop gates around the locality and it was put under effective quarantine.

Imtiaz Ismail Parray, SSP Crime Branch offered some details using his twitter. “Updating all well wishers..mother in law doing well at SKIMS. Rest of my family also following necessary protocol..Although no direct contact was made yet I am also going into isolation..urge all to leave nothing to chance and follow govt directives strictly.”

Interesting Travel History

The lady had flown to Srinagar on March 16. Her flight from Jeddah was interesting and should have somehow alerted authorities had they probed slightly into it. She was part of a 41-member group of Umrah pilgrims along with her husband. The group had boarded an Airbus (AI 966) at Jeddah and it flew straight away to Kochi. After dropping some passengers in the Kerala city, it flew to Hyderabad, dropping some more and finally landed in Mumbai.

At Mumbai airport, all these passengers were screened in which she proved normal like all others. Then, she along with the group boarded AI 101 from Mumbai to Delhi. At Delhi airport, after another round screening, she boarded another aircraft AI 443 to Chandigarh where many passengers de-boarded and a new lot of passengers for Delhi boarded for their onward travel to Delhi via Srinagar. Here again, another screening was done and she went home.

It is now being revealed that this long route was shared by two groups of pilgrims: One, of which she was a member, and comprised 41 members and another by a group 37 other Umarh pilgrims, managed by another travel agent. AI443 was boarded by Delhi bound passengers from Srinagar too. “Jeddah Delhi is a five-hour flight,” one travel agent said. “I do not know how they were made to cover this distance in around 12 hours.”

The composition of the group that travelled all along offers new challenges. It involved 14 families from Srinagar city – five having two members, three with three members each, five with a single and one with four members in the group. Then there were six other families from Shopian, mostly elderly husband-wives.

Authorities started tracing the family only after the travel trade voluntarily rushed with information at different levels in government. It was almost 24 hours later, that the Chief Medical Officer in Shopian said they have traced all the members of the group.

Nobody knows about Srinagar families. Now tracing the passengers who travelled with the group in different flights is emerging a real major challenge for the health care set-up outside Kashmir.

Involve Us

“We are willing to offer any kind of information and we want to get involved in fighting this epidemic,” Umar Tibetbakal, the secretary-general of the pilgrim tour operators said. “Why cannot we have a joint committee because have the entire information about every single person. who performed Umrah.”

Nobody knows if the government is trying to locate the other groups. Informed sources said that a day earlier, a major group of pilgrims comprising 46 people landed in Srinagar and they drove home as usual. Though Srinagar had the maximum number of this group, others belonged to Pulwama, Budgam, and Chadoora. Most of them are husbands and wives.

NHM Director

Director of National Health Mission, Bhupinder Kumar said the patient who detected positive was properly scanned at the Srinagar airport. “She showed no symptoms at that point in time,” Kumar said. “She was advised to remain in-home quarantine. Her samples were taken since she had a travel history of Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, her report was found positive. Her samples were tested in Pune and J&K laboratories at the same time.”

Kumar said the health officials are tracing the persons with whom the lady has come in contact with during these days. He said the people must cooperate and avoid getting into a panic. “We are well prepared and we are improving certain things by next week,” he said.

Authorities Issues

At the same time, however, authorities have their own problems. People flying home are supposed to declare truthfully their travel history. “It is voluntary,” one doctor said. “So most of the people avoid giving details and simply say they flew from Delhi.”

It was this situation that created an interesting situation at the airport on Thursday. A group of 153 students flew home from Bangladesh and some from Europe especially Italy, France and the USA. As per the protocol in vogue, the authorities asked them to board the buses and get into quarantine. This triggered a scene at the airport as families wanted to take their wards home. Police had to use force to manage the situation.

Dr Shahid Iqbal Choudhary

However, the students alleged that some students whose father’s wield some kind of influence moved home directly. “Though I am sure this has not happened,” Dr Shahid Iqbal Choudhary said. “But this is possible if the person simply writes that he or she flew from Delhi and avoids giving the detailed travel history. This is something that people must understand. They have always some responsibility towards the society they belong to.”

Right now, the authorities are sending the people to quarantine to a number of hotels it has hired. There is some idle infrastructure as well which is being used for this purpose.  Already the leave of entire medical staff associated with GMC hospitals and the directorate of health services has been cancelled.

A photograph showing a quarantine facility for students who flew home has gone viral. on social media

A parent of a Kashmir student who had flown from Dhaka said their wards flew home on a 20-days holiday and they have been sent to stay in quarantine for 15 days. “Is not it possible that we give in writing that we will keep them in-home quarantine,” one parent suggested. “My daughter is in a hotel with three other girls and how can it be a quarantine.”

Police Statement

Police have issued a statement on the airport episode. It is being reproduced here:

“As per the directions of District Magistrate Budgam, students who arrived today from Bangladesh at Srinagar International Airport were to be quarantined as precautionary measure vis-a-vis spread of COVID-19.

Bhupinder Kumar, Director of National Health Mission Jammu and Kashmir

The medical authorities at Srinagar International Airport requested these students to cooperate for the said quarantine process to which they did not agree and started protesting, breaking window/glass panes of Srinagar International Airport arrival area. The parents of these students who were waiting outside the arrival terminal of the Airport also started protests.

Budgam police along with magistrate reached the spot and tried to pacify the protesters, but, they did not budge and continued with vandalism. Later, on the directions of the magistrate, the protesters were pacified.

Police have taken cognizance of the incident. Students were later sent for quarantine at pre-designated locations by the district administration.

All the members of society are humbly requested to cooperate with the administration in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 (Corona Virus) infection.”

DAK Dictate

Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK) has requested doctors to volunteer for providing online consultations to patients through WhatsApp or on phone. This, it said is aimed at reducing peoples’ suffering and preventing hospitals from getting crowded.

Dr Suhail Naik, the DAK president has requested doctors who are interested in the initiative to submit their phone numbers or show willingness in DAK groups so that the same can be publicized WhatsApp numbers on social media. “It is our duty and we had been there to serve the public in natural disasters like floods or earthquake. We are ready to deal with the present situation and fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” DAK said.

Coronavirus has spread to 177 countries and killed around 9400 people so far. Its fatality has reached 10 per cent. Of them, 443 people died in the last 24 hours.

(Note: The copy was cleared off a factual mistake about the tests of two suspected cases which are actually awaited.)

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