A Bigger Crisis in MP? 18 Health Dept Officers Test Positive for Covid-19, Several Others in Quarantine

Bhopal: At least 18 senior and lower-level health department officers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Madhya Pradesh.

With the health commissioner issuing an order on Monday asking all officers who came to work in the last 10-15 to get tested, the numbers may soon go up. Several top-ranked officers, including Commissioner Faiz Ahmed Kidwai, have been infected by the virus.

Kidwai was recently appointed in the post after Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who took charge following the fall of Kamal Nath-led Congress government, removed Prateek Hajela from the post on charges of gross negligence in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hajela was earlier involved in carrying out the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam and sent to MP after controversies arose following the release of the register.

Kidwai is yet to visit his new office in the Directorate of Health at Satpura Bhawan in Bhopal and has been working from other locations.

It all started on April 3 when the first test report of Director J Vijay Kumar came positive and the second report confirmed the infection a day later.

However, sources said Kumar had tested positive some days before that, but he continued to come to office and kept taking part in meetings. He had visited Tamil Nadu recently and had gone on a trip South Africa some months ago, the sources further said.

However, a bigger shock was in store for the department on April 4 when Principal Secretary (Health) Pallavi Jain Govil, Additional Director Veena Sinha and Deputy Director Virendra Kumar Chaudhary also tested positive for the virus.

Sons of both Govil and Sinha had returned from US recently, but both allegedly failed to report the matter to the authorities. Several media reports also claimed that Govil kept attending meetings of the department as well as those with the chief minister despite having COVID-19 symptoms.

Sources said some other health officials may have contracted the infection and are staying in isolation. Their test reports are awaited.

A communique from MP government on Monday said Govil’s son had not informed the authorities when he returned from the US, because it was not required to do so at the time.

“Govil’s son was examined at Delhi airport on March 16 and spent 14 days of quarantine at home,” the statement said, adding members of Govil family were tested on April 4 after the IAS officer tested positive for the virus.

According to government guidelines, those with mild symptoms could be home quarantined amid supervision and Govil has done the same, the statement further said. A mandatory notice also has been pasted at her house and the nearby area has been quarantined.

However, a senior journalist and resident of the Char Imli area where the IAS officer also resides claimed no notice was pasted at her bungalow till Sunday afternoon and after he clicked a picture of the bungalow and uploaded the same on social media, the district administration sent employees to do the needful.

Govil, who issues daily medical bulletin for the state, said in a video message on Sunday that she has tested positive for the virus, but as she was healthy with no symptoms, she is under home quarantine on physicians’ advice.

She claimed that as she was in constant touch with her department officials, she may contracted the infection from someone. Govil’s personal assistant also tested positive on Monday among others.

Ajay Dubey, a social activist from Bhopal, said the officer should be admitted at a notified hospital, as per guidelines. He said the travel history of all infected officers and their family members should be scanned and tests be conducted on all the officers of the department.

He said Health Director J Vijay Kumar's treatment at a private hospital is a breach of norms and it risks the lives of others patients and health staff there. He also said an IAS officer and two other officers of the State Administrative Services are staying in quarantine.

However, a retired officer from the department said as health officers are at the frontline, they always run the risk of getting infected, adding that there is a shortage of safety gears, including personal protective equipment (PPEs), in the state.

He also refused to accept that the state’s health department is on the verge of collapse, stating that it is a warlike situation and the second-line of officers would lead the charge against COVID-19.

Meanwhile, employees of the Health Directorate are narrating a tale of negligence and norms being flouted.

“Let alone masks, gloves and sanitisers, we did not have soaps in washrooms. The officials did not follow social distancing. Not only officers, peons, security guard, system operators and clerks too have contracted the infection,” said an employee.

The directorate, based at Satpura Bhawan, is close to the Mantralaya. Around 250 employees and 50 officials take care of work here at four different floors.

Trade union leader LN Sharma, who also works at the directorate, told News18 the employees want proper safety gears, immediate tests for all and closure of the directorate until safety measures are in place.

Sharma, the state convener of Grade III Govt Employees’ Federation, wrote to the chief minister on Monday and urged him to send masks, sanitisers and PPE kits to the health staff.

On Monday, Chouhan held telephonic conversations with some officers of the department on Monday. However, no other officers from any other administrative department accepted to speak on the crisis that has hit the very department in charge of tacking the pandemic.