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24 patients in a family, 2 Tablighi cases with untraced contacts




File image of Nitish Kumar | Photo: ANI
File image of Nitish Kumar | Photo: ANI

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Patna: The number of Covid-19 cases in Bihar nearly doubled Thursday to 60, from 32 Wednesday, triggering panic in the state. The patients include 23 family members of a man in Siwan who returned from Oman last month.

Bihar government officials said the cases also include two members of the Tablighi Jamaat, the organisation linked to the initial spike in the number of coronavirus cases in India after it allegedly violated social distancing regulations, who had tested positive in Begusarai. The fact that they didn’t report to the police declaring that they had been to the Tablighi event in Delhi attended by thousands many of whom later tested positive for Covid-19 has caused some panic about the number of people they may have come in contact with.

“Begusarai, where two activists of the Tablighi Jamaat have been found to be coronavirus-positive, is our main concern,” Chief Secretary Deepak Kumar told the media Thursday.

“In Begusarai, it is difficult to identify the chain… In Siwan the chain of contacts has been identified… In Begusarai, the chain has not been established,” he added. 

Adding to the state’s worries is speculation that suspected Covid-19 cases from Nepal might be escaping quarantine by entering India through the 700-km porous border with Bihar. There are also fears that the state may not be conducting enough tests. 

Also Read: Call it a mistake, not conspiracy against India, say Muslim scholars on Tablighi Jamaat event

Among the first to act

Bihar was among the first states to enforce social distancing in light of the pandemic as it shut down educational institutes on 13 March. 

The Nitish Kumar government notified the government-owned Nalanda Medical College Hospital (NMCH) in Patna for the treatment of coronavirus patients (however, the hospital took one week to set itself in order amid doctors’ complaints that they did not have proper protective equipment). 

After the 21-day lockdown was announced, the Nitish Kumar administration also announced three months’ free ration for BPL card holders. For the thousands of migrant labourers who have returned to Bihar from the rest of the country since, the government claims to have set up 3,147 quarantine centres and 150 relief facilities across the state for food and shelter. 

For the labourers still stranded outside the state, the Nitish government has launched an app to transfer a grant of Rs 1,000 to each beneficiary — a facility that, it claims, has already been availed of by 2.85 lakh beneficiaries. 

While the state government defends its response to the crisis, it has come under question from the opposition for not conducting enough tests, and failing to trace and screen the hundreds of Biharis who have returned from abroad since last month. It also seems to have been slow in tracking down members of the Tablighi Jamaat despite reports from around the country about the March event of the organisation resulting in the surge in coronavirus cases.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar issued a statement Friday expressing concern about the sudden surge of cases in Bihar, especially Siwan, while also urging people to follow the lockdown.

Also Read: RSS says Tablighi Jamaat conduct not reflection on all Muslims, they’re aiding govt in fight

The Tablighi Jamaat factor

After two Tablighi members tested positive, the state government Thursday sent six companies of the Bihar Military Police (BMP) and two IPS officers to enforce a complete lockdown in Begusarai. The district has now been sealed. 

Police sources said the two Tablighi Jamaat activists had not turned themselves in. “It was the local mukhiya who informed the police, after which they were caught,” a senior police officer said. “Since then, the two have not opened up about the places they visited and whom they met.”

When the Tablighi Jamaat episode first came to light, Bihar Director General of Police Gupteshwar Pandey estimated that at least 186 residents had attended the Delhi event. “But since then, we have got a fourth list and now the number stands at 345,” the officer added. 

The state government is not releasing exact numbers anymore but the DGP claimed this week that about 80 per cent of these people had been traced. “But there are some names whose mobiles are switched off or the numbers are fake… Even the addresses given by some are fake,” said a police officer.

Nepal danger

Bihar’s 700-km border with Nepal has been sealed as part of efforts to check Covid-19, but it’s only the known transit roads where the restrictions are said to hold, not the hundreds of others people use to enter and exit the neighbouring nation. 

The Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), which is deployed along the India-Nepal border, this week sent a letter to the district magistrates of East and West Champaran, citing intelligence inputs that suggest a large number of people quarantined in Nepal have made their way into India.

DGP Pandey, however, said the Bihar Police was also posted on the border alongside the SSB and hadn’t received any such reports yet.

The Siwan case

A Siwan resident who had returned from Oman on 23 March is now said to have infected 23 people in his own family and two others in his village. 

Last month, the Nitish government had claimed that all those who had arrived in Bihar from foreign countries after 18 March would be tested. However, the Siwan incident raises a cloud over the claim. 

Siwan and the adjoining Gopalganj district account for the maximum number of local residents working in the Gulf countries. At a review meeting chaired by the CM Thursday, the number of Bihar residents who had returned to the state from abroad between 18 and 23 March was pegged at 2,254. However, no number was given for those who had been tested.

The total number of tests carried out in Bihar as on Thursday was 5,040, according to the statement issued after Nitish Kumar’s review meeting, even though the number of domestic migrants who have returned alone total more than 1.54 lakh.

“Even in Siwan and Gopalganj, the district administrations have made no efforts to track down the people coming from foreign countries. It is only after they themselves got tested and were diagnosed as positive that the administration came into action by sealing the mohalla they reside in,” said Mohd Nematullah, an MLA of opposition RJD from Gopalganj district.

By the government’s own admission, even 5 per cent of the migrant labourers returning to Bihar have not been tested. However, it has defended the low number of tests, saying it “is as good or bad as the nationwide numbers”. 

In an interview this week, Health Minister Mangal Pandey had ruled out community testing. “What is the need for testing the entire community? We have been testing persons showing symptoms like fever, congested chest etc.” 

However, experts suggest otherwise.

“The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated 15,000 testing kits to Bihar. I hope the government seriously steps up testing or else the numbers may go much higher than anyone had initially thought,” said Brajnandan Yadav, former secretary of the Indian Medical Association’s Bihar chapter.

Also Read: No new Covid-19 case in 64 hours, says Bihar minister. Doctors caution against celebration

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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’




doctor with a stethoscope
A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay

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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”

Also read: 6 toilets for 20 houses, inadequate testing: Why Mumbai’s Worli chawls are a Covid hotspot

‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.

Also read: Face shields, gowns, masks — the new attire for cabin crew post lockdown

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