Covid-19 super spreaders: Your service supplier with no contact history could be one

Updated on May 09, 2020 02:19 PM IST
A kirana shop owner in Tuglakabad in Delhi is among the new class of Covid-19 super spreaders identified by authorities recently
According to officials, the common factor in all these cases was that the source of the virus was not traceable.(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)
According to officials, the common factor in all these cases was that the source of the virus was not traceable.(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)
Hindustan Times, Jaipur/Chandigarh | BySachin Saini, Rajesh Moudgil | Edited by Sparshita Saxena

Ten vegetable and fruit vendors in Jaipur, three such persons in Ahmedabad, a biryani delivery boy in Bhubaneswar and a kirana shop owner in Tuglakabad in Delhi are among the new class of Covid-19 super spreaders identified by authorities recently, with no travel history to Covid-19 hotspots. This could indicate the possibility of community transmission of the virus in the country.

According to officials, the common factor in all these cases was that the source of the virus was not traceable and essential good suppliers infected many persons in their respective cities leading to a spike in the Covid-19 cases locally.

As most of the spreaders were asymptomatic, their identification was a challenge for the authorities. In most of the cases, they were identified only after a large number of cases were reported from the places they had visited, officials said.

Also read: List of states with over 5,000 Covid-19 cases in India

These super spreaders are somewhat different from the ones identified earlier. In March and April, most of the Covid-19 super spreaders were persons with known travel history to places highly infected with Covid-19. Except of the 11 vegetable vendors in Jhajjar, the authorities have not been able to track the travel history of these service providers to a known Covid-19 hotspot.

Kerala’s Wayanad, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Lok Sabha constituency, had remained Covid-19 free for 32 days before a truck driver from Chennai’s Koyambedu vegetable market got the virus. The market, now described as a mega super spreader, has contributed to a sudden spurt in Covid-19 cases in Chennai in the last week.

“The market is linked to about 1500 cases. We don’t know from where the virus came in the market,” said corporation commissioner G Prakash. This truck driver is said to have spread the virus to 20 other people including his 82-year-old mother, a 49-year-old wife and his co-driver’s 21-year-old son.

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In Rajasthan, the Jaipur municipal corporation identified 10 fruit and vegetable vendors as super spreaders after they had infected at least 150 persons in the city. Jaipur has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the state.

Nineteen super spreaders including vegetable vendors, milk vendors and grocery shop workers, became the carrier for the virus in 30 new localities in Ahmedabad, which accounts for about 70% of the total cases in Gujarat.

Similar instance is available from some other cities. In Odisha’s Bhubaneshwar, a biryani delivery boy is responsible for turning a residential society into a containment zone. In Lucknow’s Qaiserbagh, eight persons got the virus from a vegetable vendor, including three members of his family. In Delhi’s Tuglakabad area, a grocery shop owner became a cause for declaring the area as a containment zone. 51 persons who visited his shop were tested positive.

Haryana’s Jhajjar, which had no case till April 24, got 73 Covid-19 cases from 11 vegetable sellers who visited Delhi’s Azadpur fruit and vegetable market, said to be a source for the spread of the virus in Jehangirpuri and Rohini in Delhi. Authorities have not been able to identify the Covid-19 carrier to Azadpur market. Jhajjar civil surgeon Dr Randeep Punia said they came to know these vegetable vendors only when cases started coming up from the places the sellers frequented in the town.

“Identifying such persons is the biggest challenge,” said Ajitabh Sharma, Principal Secretary, department of energy and nodal officer for Covid-19 management in Jaipur. “They look normal and have no symptoms. And even if they mild symptoms, they tend to hide them fearing loss of work.”

The emergence of essential service providers as Covid-19 carriers have pushed the authorities to look at a new way to check the spread without hampering supply of goods to localities.

In Jaipur, Sharma said all vendors in the city are being tested and their visits have been restricted only to a few localities.

“We have colour-coded their carts depending on their municipal ward to restrict their movement. Not more than 10 vendors are being allowed in a locality,” he said.

Punia added that in Jhajjar, they have decided to test all those who come in contact with people frequently such as milk booth operators and shop owners. Giving daily health update on Aarogya Setu app has been made mandatory for them. Ahmedabad’s Vijay Nehra said the government has opted for home delivery of essentials as these service suppliers come in contact with a large number of people daily and it is very difficult to monitor them.

Dr Rajesh Malhotra, head of Covid-19 centre at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Delhi, said the recent emergence of super spreaders show that travel history of a person is no more relevant as most of them don’t have any travel history.

“We need to have a strategy to identify such persons quickly and isolate them before they spread the virus to a large number of people,” he said.

Other experts, however, said that the emergence of service suppliers as Covid-19 spreaders is an ample indication of community transmission of the virus even though the government has denied it.

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Thursday said that India has not entered the stage three of Covid-19 transmission, which is large scale community transmission of the disease.

(With inputs from state bureaus)

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