Professors track international passengers at Education Dept’s Command & Control Centre

Ritu Sharma
coronavirus, coronavirus lockdown, coronavirus lockdown gujarat, coronavirus gujarat news, COVID-19, indian express, gujarat news

People stand at a safe distance form each other outside a bank in CTM area, Ahmedabad, on Thursday. (Express photo: Javed Raja)

Dr. Hetal Gusai, an assistant professor at the government-run State Model Institute of Ayurveda Sciences, Kolavada, in Gandhinagar, has been involved in a task other than teaching for the past two days. Seated in front of a desktop with headphones, she talking to an international passenger and filling Google forms on the screen, trying to match up with the speed of the person sitting next to her.

With a minimum target of 100 calls per day and a detailed 15-question Google form per call, she is among the team of around 45 staff at the Command and Control Centre (CCC) of the Education Department who have been entrusted with the task of tracking down and counselling around 20,000 passengers who have returned to Gujarat from foreign countries this month.

In the wake of rise in COVID-19 cases in the state, the command and control centre (CCC) of the education department, from where real-time GPS-enabled surveillance of over 2.25 lakh government teachers are carried out since June 2019, has been converted into a control room for tracking the location and status of nearly 20,000 international passengers, both residents of Gujarat and non-residents.

Operational since March 23, this is being carried out by the state Health Department in support of the Education Department.

"The main objective is to ensure that all those who came from abroad are strictly under quarantine. We have also been asked to take note of any issues faced by them and alert the authorities in case of any emergency," says Dr. Gusai.

"We are working with the Health Department. The infrastructure as well as manpower of our command and control centre is being used by the Health Department," says Secretary Education, Vinod Rao, who was the mastermind of CCC set up with an aim to improve the quality of government school education.

The database, which is updated every evening, has a detailed list of passengers along with their travel history from the end of February and contact details. Those who landed after March 10 are being prioritised at the moment. The staff of 45 from Education Department with half of them working on rotation basis, 12 from Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and 15 professors, assistant professors and associate professors of State Model Institute of Ayurveda Sciences, Kolavada, are on the job at CCC.

While those from the education department were already trained to gather information and cross verify it as the call is on, others were trained on the first day with demonstrations. Data collected at the CCC revealed that while most of the passengers are under quarantine, there are a few violators too.

"Fearing action, nobody says that they are not self-quarantined but when we ask if they have gone to buy vegetables or milk, they say yes. It is this when we counsel them on the importance of self quarantine and ensure they complete the 14-day quarantine period," says Ila Damor, an ICDS staffer, who is with the CCC team that works from 10 am to 6 pm.

The main medical symptoms the staff has been briefed to check are cough with fever. If case of these symptoms, the team of local doctors is alerted that reaches out to them.

Taking additional precautions, those who have completed their minimum quarantine period are advised not to venture out in a celebratory mode.

"We have come across cases where after being in isolation for two weeks, they plan to celebrate a birthday or some other occasion with family and friends. We advise them not to organise such gatherings and maintain social distance for a few more days," says Damor.

An official of the health department said that while majority share a positive response and appreciate the step taken by the government to reach out to them, there have been a few complaints, including that of grocery shortage. "In such cases, we reach out to the department concerned and share the details of the quarantined person and his requirements," she adds.

Pointing out to a few cases of psychological stress, Dr. Gusai said, "There are persons who are either old or alone staying in a hotel or an apartment. We try to counsel them and motivate them to divert their attention to something which they like and enjoy. Also we ask them to be in touch with their family members through voice or video calls."

The data collected is compiled and analysed every day and shared with the health department. The passenger tracking centre is to operate "till further orders".