Coronavirus: Five more in Kerala; three came from Italy, not screened

Shaju Philip, Adil Akhzer
Coronavirus, coronavirus cases in India, coronavirus India, coronavirus cases India, coronavirus death toll, coronavirus Kerala, coronavirus screening, India news, Indian Express

A bus being disinfected in Delhi Sunday. (PTI)

THE NUMBER of coronavirus cases in India reached 39 Sunday, with five more infections reported from Kerala. In Ladakh, where two patients are already under quarantine, officials said that a man in his 70s, with a travel history to Iran, died Sunday — his blood samples have been sent for testing.

A senior official in Leh told The Indian Express that the “death of the male on Sunday morning primarily doesn’t seem to have taken place due to coronavirus infection”. “The patient had multiple ailments and was hospitalised a few days ago. We have sent the samples for testing and the result is awaited,” said a health official.

The Ladakh administration, meanwhile, ordered closing of all government and private schools in Leh district till March 31.

In Kerala, Health Minister K K Shailaja said that a family of three, which “did not report” for screening at the international airport in Kochi where they arrived on February 29 from Italy via Doha in Qatar, and two of their relatives have tested positive for coronavirus.

The Minister said that all the five have been placed under isolation since Friday evening and “their condition is stable”. The latest cases are from Ranni in Pathanamthitta district although local health workers said the family — a 55-year-old man, his 53-year-old wife and and their 25-year-old son — was based in Italy. Their infected relatives include a 65-year-old man and his 58-year-old wife, officials said.

The Minister said the government has issued a “high alert” in Pathanamthitta district, where all public functions have been cancelled. Officials at the Cochin International Airport (CIAL) said all passengers on the Qatar Airways Venice-Doha flight on February 28 and Doha-Kochi flight on February 29 were asked to immediately report at control rooms in their districts.

“They did not report at the airport for screening. Even after their relatives developed symptoms of the infection, they were not ready to move to hospital. They have neglected all directions of the health staff, claiming that they had no health issues,” the Minister said. The family, however, claimed that they were not informed on arrival about the screening.

Kerala Health Department sources told The Indian Express: “The three landed on February 29 and skipped the mandatory health screening at the airport. From the next day, they had been moving about and meeting relatives. The couple’s son interacted with his friends, too. They were also at the office of the District SP for processing documents.”

The sources said it was only on Friday that the family informed health workers about their travel history after the two infected relatives, who were admitted to a private hospital that morning, informed doctors about the arrival from Italy.

With doctors suspecting Covid-19 symptoms, the family was also asked to report at the district hospital. The couple’s parents, aged 91 and 89, were also shifted to the hospital Sunday after they developed fever.

Italy is among the hardest-hit by the outbreak, after China, with 5,883 cases and 233 deaths. Kerala had previously reported three cases starting January 30 — all of them had returned from China’s Wuhan, which is at the centre of the outbreak, and were discharged after treatment.

“Till evening, we have come across 150 primary contacts of the couple. They include relatives, friends, staff at the Ranni taluk hospital and another private hospital. Their two local contacts, now tested positive, are the male member’s elder brother and wife. These two relatives had gone to the Ranni taluk hospital. We are also tracing their primary contacts. Secondary contacts, too, will be traced for monitoring,’’ said a health official.

Meanwhile, all staff on duty at the Kochi airport on February 29 and the medical team at local hospitals in Pathanamthitta, where the couple’s relatives turned up for initial treatment, have been placed under observation.

“All 182 passengers on the Doha-Kochi flight have been issued health alerts. They will be monitored at their respective districts. CCTV recordings on the movement of the family at the airport have been collected and efforts are on to identify those who interacted closely,” Ernakulam District Collector S Suhas said.

“In the present scenario, we have decided to go for universal screening. Those landing in domestic flights after having arrived at other international airports will also be screened,” he said.

A local health worker at the locality where the family had been staying since arrival said “fear has gripped the region”. “It was only on Friday that we realised that there is a family here that has arrived from Italy. They had been to Ranni and Punalur in Kollam,’’ the worker said.

Officials at State DGP’s office said those who do not report suspected symptoms of the virus will henceforth be prosecuted. “Those who return from affected countries should report at the Health Department. Such persons should not hesitate from revealing their travel history and symptoms, if any,’’ an official said.

In Delhi, meanwhile, the Cabinet Secretary chaired a review meeting during which the plan to bring back Indian citizens from Iran was discussed.

The government has decided to use dedicated aerobridges in airports to facilitate the screening of passengers from France, USA and Spain in view of the rising numbers of cases in these countries.

The disease has now spread to more than 90 countries with over 1 lakh cases worldwide. Separate aerobridges are already in place for passengers from 12 countries: Italy, Iran, China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Nepal, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia.