From Rampur to Chennai via Delhi: TN Covid-19 patient sparks community spread fears

ByTR Vivek
Mar 22, 2020 10:45 AM IST

Bengaluru: It was only the second officially confirmed case of Covid-19 in Tamil Nadu, but potentially the most worrisome case for the whole of India.

HT Image
HT Image

A 20-year-old man from Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, who works as a hairdresser in Chennai, tested positive on March 18. Could this case be a harbinger of the hitherto undetected community transmission, in which the source of infection cannot be traced, in India? Yet, Tamil Nadu’s health minister C Vijayabaskar, in his briefing a day after the case was detected, claimed that all three Covid-19 confirmations in the state, including this young man, were imported cases.

An imported case is when the virus is introduced into a population by those who have travelled to affected countries and contracted it there. The state government has, however, confirmed that the young man has no history of foreign travel or traceable first level contact with any recent arrivals in India from overseas.

The man in question left Rampur on March 7 and spent a couple of days in Delhi before leaving for Chennai, reportedly, on the Tamil Nadu Express late at night on March 10. He arrived in Chennai on March 12 and resumed work the next day at a hair salon. Having developed Covid-19-like symptoms, he visited the city’s Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital (RGGGH) on March 15. Soon after he tested positive, the government scrambled to find those out who may have shared the train coach with him on the journey to Chennai.

Strangely, the government refused to officially confirm the train he took from Delhi to Chennai. The argument was that it could trigger wholesale panic among all passengers of the train and others who may have come in contact at railway stations virtually across the length of India.

Health workers also combed the central Chennai neighbourhood of Arumbakkam where the man worked and lived. The domestic breeding checkers (DBC) of the Chennai Corporation looked for people in the area who may have got a haircut from him and the shops where he may have made a purchase. A door-to-door check was carried to ascertain if anyone in the vicinity displayed Covid-19 symptoms. The area was sprayed with disinfectants.

As most low-wage migrants do in big cities, the man from Rampur, too, shared a tiny tenement with seven others. All seven roommates have been kept in isolation at a government hospital in Chennai’s Poonamalee. In all about 150 people — those living in the immediate neighbourhood, passengers who travelled on the same coach of the Tamil Nadu Express (some of whom reportedly identified themselves) and clients who came in contact with him have been put under home quarantine.

According to Vijayabaskar, until March 19, Tamil Nadu had screened nearly 195,000 passengers and tested 320 samples. However, the screening and testing has so far almost entirely been air travel centric.

Tamil Nadu’s Covid-19 Case No.2 could set the cat of community transmission among the already panic-stricken pigeons. Perhaps the search should also reach Delhi and Rampur. Has there been any coordination with the state governments of Delhi and UP? Vijayabaskar’s daily briefings carried no further information on the case except boilerplate reassurances of the patient being in stable condition.

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