54.5% cases in Maharashtra got coronavirus from Dubai, UAE still not on ‘high risk’ list

Tabassum Barnagarwala, Anuradha Mascarenhas
coronavirus, coronavirus cases, coronavirus in maharashtra, maharashtra coronavirus deaths, coronavirus deaths, positive tests, COVID-19, maharashtra news, indian epxress news

Maharashtra has recorded 33 Covid-19 cases. (File Photo)

More than half of those who tested positive for Covid-19 in Maharashtra have either visited Dubai or remained in close contact with the infected cases, indicating that even countries with low burden of coronavirus can become a potential threat to visiting citizens from other countries.

Maharashtra has recorded 33 Covid-19 cases, of them 18 infected cases have travel history to Dubai, or history of close contact (within three feet) with them. That is 54.5 per cent of total cases in the state. Most who have tested positive in Maharashtra have returned from Dubai before March 5. At least 15, from Mumbai, Pune, Yavatmal and Nagpur, belong to the same group of tourists who returned from Dubai on March 1. Analysis of the 33 cases show those who tested positive after exposure to virus in Dubai have zero or very mild symptoms. The symptoms are stronger in patients with travel history to other countries, said Anup Kumar Yadav, director of National Health Mission (NHM).

Till Sunday, UAE had recorded 85 coronavirus cases. It still comes amongst low-burden countries which is why India was not screening passengers from Dubai until March 5. It is possible, state officials admit, that several passengers who returned from Dubai before March 5 may have the virus but remain asymptomatic, and have missed screening at the airport. Civic bodies are in process of reaching out to such passengers, but the task is tedious and can take several days. UAE is also not in the list of seven countries, passengers from where are followed up for a 14 day period for symptoms. On Sunday, state health minister Rajesh Tope said he has written to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to include UAE in the list.

Currently, while airport officials are conducting thermal screening for all international passengers, government's standard operating protocol for quarantine mandates extra focus on passengers from China, South Korea, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Iran. "We are following government of India guidelines, there are three categories of passengers based on risk pattern," said Dr Santosh Revankar, deputy executive health officer.

Category A is high risk passengers from these seven countries who suffer from high fever, breathless, cough, or a person with acute respiratory illness in close contact with Covid-19 case. They have to be immediately isolated. Category B is medium risk, this includes senior citizens who are asymptomatic, have hypertension, diabetes or asthma and have visited these seven countries. They have to be moved to quarantine facility for testing. And category C is low risk passengers who are asymptomatic, they have to practice home isolation for 14 days. Yadav said, "We expect them to remain at home, report to us if any symptoms emerge. They will be immediately quarantined," he said.

Pune airport has one international connection to Dubai. Every week 10 flights, operated by SpiceJet and Air India, arrive from Dubai with an average of 150 to 250 passengers per day.

A big chunk - six positive cases - of novel coronavirus infected cases in Pune have been found among those who had visited Dubai. Even then passengers arriving from Dubai at Pune airport and not having any recent travel history to seven listed "high risk" countries are not compulsorily being admitted to "institutional quarantine".

"We are following the directives given to us by Union Health Ministry. As per the directive only those international passengers which have visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany in last 28 days have to be sent to a compulsory quarantine. However, our job is to facilitate the screening and collect information pertaining to travel history and health indices. Rest of the decision making is done by state health officials," said a senior officer at Pune airport.

According to the Indian embassy in the UAE, Indians constitute 30 per cent of their total population. There are about 1.75 million Indians, mostly from Kerela, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, living in UAE. The threat of cross transmission between these two countries stands high.

Dubai has suspended its theme parks, night clubs, gyms, cinemas to control the spread. UAE has shut its beaches and parks. "We have been asked to work from home. And Metro is also disinfected regularly in Dubai. Visa restrictions are also in place, no new visas are being given," said Shushank Marla, who works in digital agency Mojo.