People evading coronavirus tests pose a hurdle

Updated on Mar 09, 2020 02:27 AM IST

So far, 39 people have tested positive for the disease in India. Of them, three Kerala patients who were the first to be diagnosed in late January and early February, have fully recovered.

A German tourist undergoes a screening test on Jammu-Pathankot National Highway on March 4.(PTI photo)
A German tourist undergoes a screening test on Jammu-Pathankot National Highway on March 4.(PTI photo)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByHT Correspondent

People reluctant to report their symptoms or travel history, those refusing to give their samples, or those running away from isolation facilities are adding to the woes of the health care workers scrambling to contain the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) in the country.

So far, 39 people have tested positive for the disease in India. Of them, three Kerala patients who were the first to be diagnosed in late January and early February, have fully recovered.

Another five people from the state tested positive for the viral infection on Sunday. Three of the them — a couple and their 24-year-old son — reportedly did not inform health authorities about having returned from Italy, where the disease has infected 5,883 and killed 233, and then suppressed the early symptoms.

The other two infected are older members of the same family. The health authorities came to know of the cases when these two, who had no recent international travel history of their own, sought treatment at private and district hospitals, according to Kerala’s health minister KK Shailaja.

“They (the three who had travelled to Italy) acted in a highly irresponsible manner. They have done injustice to the state and those who toil day in and out to contain the virus. People who behave like this will be dealt with sternly,” she said.

This may be the only instance so far of reluctance unwittingly causing greater damage, but it isn’t the first of people with symptoms trying to stay away from hospitals and isolation facilities.

An Irish national who arrived at Bhubaneswar with flu-like symptoms was asked to remain in the isolation ward of SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack, along with another person. Both, however, escaped on Thursday night, forcing authorities to file a police complaint.

In Jammu, two people with travel history to Italy and South Korea (which has reported the highest number of cases outside China) showed flu-like symptoms, and were admitted to Government Medical College in Jammu. Authorities were able to bring them back on Thursday, confirmed the state Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme cell.

“The only way to curtail the spread of the disease is to isolate people who are suspected to have the virus. There are only three reasons why they would want to flee – they might be thinking of their work or family, they are not satisfied with the isolation facility, or they do not think they have the disease. The thing is, many people with Covid-19 might experience mild symptoms, but they can pass it on to others. There is no way of knowing whether the others who get it from them will develop severe symptoms,” said Dr Neeraj Gupta, a pulmonologist at Safdarjung hospital, where 24 people are under isolation. Punjab has also reported several cases of people fleeing from hospitals.

A Moga-resident with Covid-19-like symptoms and a travel history to Dubai was asked to get admitted early on March 4 to the isolation ward of Moga Civil Hospital last week.

He quietly left the hospital without even giving samples for testing. By the evening, the health workers were able to contact him, and convince him to remain in isolation at the hospital. He tested negative for Covid-19 later.

Another 38-year-old Kotkapura resident, who returned from Canada after a nine-hour layover in Shanghai on January 27, refused to give samples and fled from Guru Gobind Singh Medical College and Hospital in Faridkot on February 3. The district administration issued an arrest order, but the patient later agreed to remain in the isolation ward. He, too, tested negative for the disease.

“I would request everyone in the country to follow all the protocol and advise given by the health workers. This will not only allow them to receive proper treatment but also prevent the disease from spreading. This is their responsibility to their fellow countrymen,” said Union health secretary Preeti Sudan.

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