Coronavirus: ‘Poor infection control at Kasturba hospital, no announcement on flights, at Mumbai’s airport’

Tabassum Barnagarwala

Kasturba Gandhi hospital in Mumbai is one of the official isolation centres in the state.

Hospitalisation of people suspected of coronavirus infection has brought out systemic issues in airport screening and quarantine facilities in Mumbai.

A 36-year-old man who was admitted to the quarantine ward in Mumbai’s Kasturba hospital has claimed there were neither in-flight announcements nor enquiries at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International (CSMI) airport for passengers, including those returning from China, to report cases of cough, cold or fever. He also claimed the hospital, an official isolation centre, maintained poor infection control system.

The patient, who was on a business tour with three others to Guangzhou and Shushan, in China, for six days, told The Indian Express: “I had a cold before the trip. In China, I developed a fever once. There we didn’t realise the scale of the coronavirus outbreak.”

On landing at CSMI airport on January 22, he claimed that no announcement were made inside the RwandAir flight on possible coronavirus infection. At the airport too, he claimed, no official informed him to report if he had any symptoms for the virus.

“I still had a cold when I landed, but I easily passed through immigration and went home. The next day, I realised the extent of the outbreak. My office first got me tested and then reached out to the airport authorities, who directed us to Kasturba hospital,” he said. He and his colleague, a 31-year-old woman, were admitted to Kasturba hospital on January 23, while their two other colleagues were quarantined in Delhi.

While the 36-year-old man claimed he had not come across a thermal scanner, a CSMI spokesperson said two such scanners have been positioned in aerobridges for Air China and RwandAir flights. “We direct these flights to those aerobridges. The scanner can detect high body temperature from a distance of three metres,” the spokesperson said.

A thermal scanner is a hand-held device. At airports in other countries, each passenger is screened using the device. At the Mumbai airport, it is mounted atop a tripod and can only detect fever, but not cough and cold. “That is why we encourage self-reporting by people,” the official said, adding that more passengers in flights from Hong Kong may soon be screened.

Till now, 4,846 passengers have been screened at the airport, but none have been referred to Kasturba hospital for quarantine. Most passengers have themselves reported to authorities a day or more after exiting the airport.

Dr Sadhana Tayade, director of Directorate of Health Services, said she held a meeting with airport officials on Wednesday. “They have strengthened the screening system. They also plan to reach out to other airlines to make in-flight announcements for passengers to report coronavirus symptoms,” she said.

On Thursday, as the 36-year-old man and his colleague were discharged from Kasturba hospital after a second test for the virus came negative. He later told The Indian Express that the municipal hospital had poor prevention control mechanism. “We were scared that if any patient had coronavirus, we would all be at risk. The infection would circulate within the ward,” he said.

The hospital’s isolation unit maintains no separate air conditioning, and only has windows for ventilation. There remains no negative pressure in the ward to prevent cross-infection. The 10-bedded quarantine facility has four rooms, a bed in each, and a general ward with six beds.

“It used to be cleaned 4-5 times a day, the staffers wore masks, but that is it,” he added.

A state health official said Kasturba hospital has been directed by state and central governments to improve its infection prevention mechanism. Training will also be given to staffers to handle the suspected cases.

Two foreigners admitted to Kasturba hospital

Two foreigners were admitted at the isolation ward of Kasturba hospital on Thursday and two Indians in Pune’s Naidu hospital for suspected coronavirus infection. Across the state, 11 people remain in isolation wards.

According to officials, 21-year-old woman, a resident of China, landed in Mumbai on January 25. She developed symptoms of the viral infection on Tuesday, and was admitted to the quarantine ward of Kasturba hospital on Thursday.

Another woman, aged 32, arrived in Mumbai on Wednesday from Beijing and developed symptoms the same day. She was also admitted to Kasturba hospital on Thursday. Currently, five persons are admitted in isolation wards in Mumbai and Pune each, and one in Nanded.