Coronavirus: Whistle-blowing doctor 'sacked by hospital' in India for raising alarm over patient

Adam Withnall
Indian women wear masks as a precaution against coronavirus as they leave the Attukal temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala: AP

A doctor in India says she was sacked for raising the alarm over a patient returning from Qatar with flu symptoms who refused to undergo testing for coronavirus.

Dr Shinu Syamalan said the private hospital where she worked in Kerala terminated her contract over her whistleblowing, on the basis that it would be bad for business if people thought a Covid-19 patient had attended the practice.

The patient was an Indian national who works in Qatar, Dr Syamalan said, and presented with symptoms that matched those of the virus.

“When he was asked whether he had visited any foreign countries, he said he was coming from Qatar. But he had not reported to the health department about his foreign trip,” the doctor wrote in a Facebook post.

Dr Syamalan said she told the patient it was mandatory for him to undergo testing and to report to the state health department, but that he refused and said he would just go back to Qatar.

In her social media posts and in interviews to TV channels, Dr Syamalan claims that she immediately informed police and local health officials about the incident, but that no action was taken to stop the patient returning to Qatar.

And she said that after the TV interviews, the hospital management informed her that she was being sacked. “The argument of the management is that no one would turn up for treatment in the clinic if they come to know that it was visited by patients with suspected symptoms of Coronavirus,” she wrote.

“Officials who let the patient go abroad do not have any problem, but I have become jobless,” she added.

Health department officials disputed Dr Syamalan’s account. The District Medical Officer told The Week that the patient in question was only allowed to return to Qatar after completing a period of observation. They threatened to bring legal action against the doctor for “defaming health officials”, and accused her of “painting the entire medical service community in a bad light”.

It comes as Kerala reported a rise in coronavirus cases up to 14, including three who have since recovered. Most of the new cases relate to a single Indian family who recently returned to the state for a visit after several years living in Italy.

India is taking increasingly muscular measures to try and prevent imported cases of the virus from entering the country, which has had 60 confirmed cases so far.

Late on Tuesday, it announced the suspension of visas for nationals of France, Germany and Spain, which collectively have more than 5,000 cases. It adds to a ban on arrivals from China, Italy, South Korea, Japan and Iran.

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