People outside the novel coronavirus facilitation centre, in New Delhi.(Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)
People outside the novel coronavirus facilitation centre, in New Delhi.(Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

Airport, flight, dinner, clinic: On the trail of Delhi’s Patient Zero

The process of identifying people who may have been affected by those carrying infections is called contact tracing, the mainstay of controlling any serious outbreak within a community.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Rhythma Kaul
UPDATED ON MAR 04, 2020 11:39 AM IST

The authorities scrambled on Tuesday to identify people who came in contact with a 45-year-old Delhi man diagnosed with the novel coronavirus infection, with at least 46 people being kept under surveillance in the national capital to prevent a spread of the disease that has claimed more than 3,000 lives across the world.

After visiting Italy and taking an Air India flight out of Vienna to return to Delhi, the man interacted with several people before being diagnosed and isolated at a hospital on Monday.

A dinner at a hotel with family and friends and a visit to a clinic in Mayur Vihar were among the identified points of contact with dozens of people as officials traced his steps across Delhi to contain a possible outbreak.

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“Forty-six persons are under surveillance at different levels, and all of them have been tested. Once the test results returned positive, then a detailed list of people was compiled to know the people he had come in touch with since his return. All those listed were informed about the situation and asked to stay under home quarantine for at least 14 days.

High-risk ones with symptoms have been moved to hospitals and their samples taken. The private doctor he went to was counselled, and asked to not examine patients and stay home in quarantine for two weeks at least,” a senior health ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

The process of identifying people who may have been affected by those carrying infections is called contact tracing, the mainstay of controlling any serious outbreak within a community.

After returning to Delhi on Air India flight AI154 on February 25, the infected man remained in close contact with his family members – mother, wife and two children – at his Mayur Vihar residence. He also worked with his accountant before being diagnosed. His family members and the accountant have been admitted to the Safdarjung Hospital and being screened for the virus.

Three days later, on February 28, the man threw a birthday party for his son at a restaurant, La Piazza, at Hyatt Regency, inviting his son’s classmates and their parents to join the celebrations.

On Monday, his son and the classmates, unaware of the infection of the 45-year-old, attended classes at The Shriram Millennium School in Noida. Five students of the school have been tested for the infection so far, with the school announcing it will remain shut for the rest of the week to ward off possible cases.

The man self-reported at Delhi’s Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital after visiting the Mayur Vihar doctor. He was later admitted to the Safdarjung Hosipital, where his condition is said to be stable.

Six people from his family were also traced to Agra, some of whom travelled with him to Italy. While 13 people were tested for possible symptoms in the city, six were said to show symptoms of the disease.

“Six of them were tested as they had shown symptoms. Not just the people he dined with at a restaurant but we also traced the hotel staff on duty that evening. They have been asked to stay vigilant,” the official added.

“As per the standard strategy, the list of contacts of these positive cases was compiled quickly, and examined for symptoms. Those with symptoms or at high risk are being tested,” the official said.

Apart from Delhi, a fresh coronavirus case has been detected in Hyderabad. For that patient, 88 contacts have been traced. Forty-five of them are being tested for the disease in Hyderabad hospitals.

The tracking of high-risk cases begins inside aircraft when they are flying in from severely affected countries, with in-flight announcements being made.

Passengers entering India from the affected countries are required to furnish duly filled self-declaration forms (including personal particulars i.e. phone no. and address in India) and travel history to health and immigration officials at 21 airports and 12 major and 65 minor ports.

The Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) running under the Union health ministry has units functioning in all states that closely monitor and pick up signs of the disease. The contact list is shared with officers even at the district level as they remain in regular touch with the contact under surveillance.

“Our officers even visit the homes individually, taking necessary precautions, to check listed people for symptoms. For asymptomatic people, home quarantine for a stipulated period of time is good enough, but those who develop symptoms are moved to a hospital as per protocol,” said the above mentioned official.

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