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Bhopal’s health department becomes coronavirus hotspot, half the city’s cases linked to it

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Barriers demarcating a Covid-19 containment zone in Madhya Pradesh's capital Bhopal | Photo: ANI
Barriers demarcating a Covid-19 containment zone in Madhya Pradesh’s capital Bhopal | Photo: ANI


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New Delhi: Of the 121 coronavirus cases in Madhya Pradesh’s capital, Bhopal, more than half are linked to its health department employees and their families. The health department, which is responsible for fighting Covid-19 in the state, has itself become a hotspot.

A senior official of the department, who didn’t want to be named, told ThePrint that “this was the failure of planning by the bureaucracy and a result of their overconfidence”, adding that “with 35 officials of the health department testing positive for Covid, we have been kept in quarantine. Now, tests of our family members have also started coming positive. There are over 50 coronavirus cases in the city which are related to the health department, which is over half the cases in Bhopal.”

So far, Madhya Pradesh has recorded 483 coronavirus cases with the highest number, 249, in Indore. Till date, 30 have died in Indore, five in Ujjain, two in Khargone and one each in Bhopal, Chhindwara, Ratlam and Dewas. Indore also had the first case of a doctor dying of Covid-19 in India.


Also read: India has done very well to fight Covid-19, but it’s not time to lift the lockdown


How the health department became a hotspot

Pramod Goyal of Bhopal’s Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme returned to the city from Indore on a bus on the night of 21 March. He went to his office for the next two days, but had a temperature and was coughing. Despite showing symptoms akin to coronavirus he was asked to go home and rest instead of being sent for testing.

The health department official alleges “the department heads showed callousness and despite recognising the symptoms, didn’t do anything about it. Otherwise we would have known of the spread of infection before 25 March.”

On 22 March, the department ignored all the norms of social distancing and held a regular meeting of 80—100 people of the National Health Mission. That day, Swati Meena took over as Director of NHM and she was feted with much fanfare in the office. The department’s Chief Secretary Pallavi Jain Govil also participated in the welcome and ordered the officials of the health department to go to the districts to oversee Covid-19 preparedness.

The health ministry official said, “In the beginning, there was a failure of planning and overconfidence of the bureaucrats, which brought this calamity upon us. There was no proper monitoring and testing kits were not available. In fact, the health department didn’t even know what kind of testing kits were needed.”

IAS officer, J Vijay Kumar, CEO of the state’s Ayushman Bharat programme and the key person in the city’s battle against the virus, was the first one to test positive for Covid-19. Along with him, around a dozen other IAS officers who had been in touch with him, have been self-quarantined.

Pallavi Jain Govil also tested positive and started working from home; she brought out the health bulletin on 5 April just the day after her test result came back.

The state health department officials went to her home to take care of her. She did not get admitted to a hospital nor did she go to a hospital for her check-up. Pictures emerged of her not wearing a mask during her check-up and department officials seen caring for her.

She has been accused of not disclosing that her son had returned from the US while she continued to hold meetings. The test reports of her family members didn’t show any infection, but there was a quarantine notice stuck to the exterior of her residence. Her son was screened at Delhi airport on arrival from US on 16 March and he quarantined himself at home in Bhopal till 30 March. He has shown no symptoms of the virus and remains healthy.

Meanwhile the Additional Director, Health, Dr Veena Sinha, tested positive and is also self-quarantining. Those who came in contact with her have also been tested and quarantined.

Pallavi Jain Govil took part in review meetings with the Chief Minister, Mr Shivraj Singh Chouhan, via video conferencing, at which she told him she was fine and working from home. The CM praised her courage. She said she was on self-quarantine but fit enough to keep working 10-12 hours. The CM lauded her for her dedication and called her “our warrior”.


Also read: Modi had trapped himself in a corner, then coronavirus arrived to save the day for him


Removal of infected officials

With a number of officials testing positive, questions are being raised about the health department itself. To improve the functioning of the health department, Shivraj Singh Chouhan has inducted officials of his choice in the department. He has removed those infected and brought his chosen ones to helm the health department.

Pallavi Jain Govil has been replaced by Mohammed Suleiman, who has been made Additional Chief Secretary and Vijay Kumar has been replaced by Dr Sudam Pandharinath Khade as Director.

 Coronavirus scare reaches Raj Bhavan

The Bhopal governor’s residence went into a tizzy when they found out that Pallavi Jain Govil had tested positive for coronavirus. Governor Lalji Tandon and six other officials were immediately tested and all were found negative. An official of Raj Bhavan told The Print, “Principal Secretary, Health, Pallavi Jain and other officials had come to the Governor’s residence and once their report came positive, the Governor and other officials were immediately tested. Their reports are negative.”


Also read: Lockdown may contain Covid-19, but it can’t curb the virus of Islamophobia in India


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

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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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