Medical staff dispose garbage outside an isolation ward for coronavirus at a hospital in Kochi.(PTI)
Medical staff dispose garbage outside an isolation ward for coronavirus at a hospital in Kochi.(PTI)

Kerala medics face tough time tracking returnees to contain coronavirus

Health officials in Kerala expect more people to test positive for coronavirus since the state has highest number of students studying in Hubei province in China, epicentre of the outbreak.
By Ramesh Babu | Hindusatn Times, Thiruvananthapuram
PUBLISHED ON FEB 03, 2020 11:23 PM IST

Kerala’s health officials had a tough time two days ago in Thrissur when they approached a medical student who had returned from Wuhan. He insisted that he was all right and in case he develops any symptoms of coronavirus, he would resort to prayers and other services to overcome the illness. Belonging to a particular sect, he told shocked officials that his community did not believe in modern medicine and he enrolled in medical service “only to help others”.

He finally gave in only after officials said they will seek police help to take him to the hospital. Once he was admitted to an isolation ward, his family members were quarantined in their house and later two officials were appointed there to ensure that they won’t interact with others. They were strictly told not to hold prayers outside their house or host any gathering for 28 days. Now these officials ensure their basic needs including food are taken care of.

All three positive cases of coronavirus reported in India are from Kerala.

Health workers working in the field to track those who returned from China and their immediate contacts admit that often they face problems from kin of returnees. Every district has a rapid response team comprising grassroots anganwadi workers, para medical staff, local body members and doctors and they report directly to the district medical officer and district programme manager.

“At least 70 per cent of the returnees report on their own. But some skip thinking they can approach hospitals once they develop some symptoms. Since majority of the returnees are medical students they understand the gravity and co-operate fully. At times their relatives argue and we convince them,” said Dr Satheesan P V, district programme manager of Thrissur.

Besides basic needs, authorities are also providing counseling for the needy. Many health volunteers are also part of the exercise. Some of those quarantined at home, have sought wi-fi, books and other materials to spend their time, said officials. Students will not be marked absent and connections of those who failed to pay up their power, phone and other bills will not be disconnected in 28 days.

Those quarantined at home are being contacted thrice daily by assigned health workers. But officials admit it is difficult for them to trace some of them who have taken more than three transits to reach the country. They have identified one recently who hopped four foreign airports to reach India.

“Some of the relatives who came in direct contact with those who returned from China fear that once they are isolated in hospitals they could get infected. Enough prodding is needed but when they the realise the gravity of the situation, they agree,” said another medical officer. In case of any resistance officials can seek police help and district collectors can use their magisterial powers. People with diabetes and heart diseases will have to take extra care during home quarantine,” he said.

Officials said they situation was more precarious when the nipah virus struck two years ago than the coronavirus scare which they say they will tide over. They expect more cases of people testing positive for coronavirus since Kerala has highest number of students studying in Hubei province in China, epicentre of the outbreak.

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