Covid-19: Are people giving health officials the slip? Kerala under semi-lockdown

Kerala state is under semi-lockdown as the Covid-19 positive cases touch 14. All large gatherings including weddings, funerals, public functions stand cancelled; schools and colleges are closed, examinations cancelled, theatres closed, resorts in hill stations closed to tourists—a direct result of three people not revealing their travel history to Covid-19 hit Italy. They tested positive and their irresponsible behavior infected six others.

The issue of suspected Covid-19 patients not abiding by the advice of the Health department officials and causing a Covid-19 scare in the state has again come to the fore with the breakout of Covid-19 in clusters in Pathanamthitta and in Ernakulam. The state had earlier managed to contain the spread of the disease by quarantining three infected medical students who had returned from Wuhan in China in late January.

The alleged irresponsible behaviour on the part of the three-member family from Pathanamthitta who returned from Italy via Doha has now brought the entire state to a halt. Of the nine fresh positive cases of Covid-19 reported on Tuesday, six people had come in touch with the family from Konni, did not volunteer for Covid-19 screening as per the Health department directive.

It is at this juncture, a general physician at a clinic in Thrissur has come out with an allegations against the Health department officials in Thrissur district for their laxity in tracing and subjecting a patient who had consulted her for fever and then flew back to Qatar without the mandatory screening for the disease.

Dr Shinu Syamalan

According to Dr Shinu Syamalan who works as general practitioner in Thrissur, a newly-married, male patient had consulted her on the evening of March 8 (going by her Face Book post) at the outpatient department of the clinic with fever of 101 degree.

Dr Shinu, who is also a social activist, posted a video, the next day, saying that the patient was arrogant and refused to give his phone number and was adamant about flying back to Qatar the next day after the consultation.

“I advised the man to approach the Health department for Covid-19 screening as there was lack of clarity regarding the date on which he had reached Kerala from Qatar and he was reluctant to reveal his details. He had also travelled extensively in February after his wedding and visited places like Delhi and Agra where he may have probably come in touch with foreigners,” says the doctor in the video.

As the patient refused the screening, the doctor informed the top health officials in Thrissur and the local police about the patient and the bike registration number of the patient was also noted by the vigilant hospital staff.

Her major grievance, as expressed in the video, is that none of the Health department took the matter seriously and when she did a follow-up she was told by the department officials that she should have collected the phone number and handed over the CCTV footage of the patient concerned.

“I later traced the person with the vehicle registration number and tracked down the panchayat member of the place but he informed that the said man had flown back to Qatar and is now quarantined at a hospital in Qatar,” Dr Shinu says.

As her FB post created ripples, the doctor said that the clinic management rang her up on Tuesday morning and dismissed her from services. “The management was against me taking up the matter with the Health department officials when I informed the director about the matter. He told me that other patients would not come to the clinic because I came out on social media about a suspected Covid-19 patient visiting the clinic,” Dr Shinu says.

DMO refutes the doctor

However, Thrissur DMO, Dr K J Reena, says that the allegations made by Dr Shinu that the health officials were negligent is baseless and her department had done a follow-up on the matter and found out that the patient concerned had reached India from Qatar on January 31 and it was in February, the first case of Covid-19 was reported in that country.

She further adds that he had visited Delhi and Agra when there were no Covid-19 cases reported. “We can only block a person from travelling abroad if he has tested positive for Covid-19 and we work as per the WHO directives. As India is a Covid-19-affected country, it is quite normal for health authorities in Qatar to put the patient concerned in house quarantine,” Dr Reena says.

She adds that earlier there had been cases of persons who were quarantined, returning to China without their permission as there were no rules to prevent them from travelling unless they were tested positive for Covid-19 virus. Reena rejected media reports that the concerned patient who flew to Qatar with fever was one among those who were already put in quarantine by the Health department.

Dr Shinu says that she did not get any intimation from Health department officials about them tracing the patient concerned and had all the proof of her communication with them on WhatsApp.

“The patient should not have flown back to Qatar without proper screening,” she says.

As the state grapples with the rising number of positive cases, 120 in hospitals, 1236 in home quarantine, people still don’t realize the seriousness of the disease because they are asymptomatic and continue to freely roam around transmitting the disease to others. Meanwhile, the health minister, K K Shylaja, has warned that concealing the disease or travel history to Covid-19 affected nations will be treated as a crime.

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