Kolkata: The first and only positive COVID-19 case in West Bengal has taken the state government administration by storm, forcing top civil servants to go into self-quarantine, the state secretariat building Nabanna into sanitisation mode, and leaving Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee fuming.
According to a state government statement, an 18-year-old student, who returned from the United Kingdom Sunday (15 March), tested positive for coronavirus late Tuesday night. The infected youth is the son of a senior official serving in the West Bengal home department, and is a student at a renowned university in the UK.
The student was initially asymptomatic for COVID-19 and passed the thermal scanner test at the airport; the family came to know through a communication from London that a couple of his friends tested positive for the disease, a government official told ThePrint.
However, despite getting this information, the youth’s mother, a West Bengal Civil Service officer promoted to the Indian Administrative Service, still chose to attend office at Nabanna Monday, met top officials, and attended meetings, while her son didn’t appear for tests.
A source at the secretariat said she later took her son to a government hospital, where they were advised to undergo tests, but chose to skip them.
Tuesday, the teenager was finally taken to the Infectious Diseases and Beleghata General Hospital (commonly known as Beleghata ID Hospital) — the only facility in Kolkata equipped to handle infectious diseases — where he tested positive for COVID-19.
The series of actions taken by the IAS officer and her son have angered Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Attending a government programme at Nabanna Wednesday, she said, “Anybody who is travelling back to Kolkata from any foreign country needs to test for COVID. I will not tolerate any VVIP, VIP or LIP (less important person) culture here. This is about public health.”
Banerjee added: “Nobody has a reason to think that he has someone very influential in the family who can help to evade the medical tests. This is irresponsible behaviour. They tend to infect so many people.”
Banerjee also lambasted the media for reporting it as the first COVID-19 positive case in West Bengal. “How did you report it as the first case in Bengal? He carried the infection from the UK,” she said.
Son’s movements unknown, mother was at Nabanna
Officials told ThePrint that the student was advised to go to the Beleghata ID Hospital at the airport itself, because he was returning from abroad, but he ignored the advice.
Since then, he might have gone to places that no one has any idea about, said a senior doctor at the ID Hospital, who did not wish to be named.
“We are trying to retrace his movements in the last 24 hours. He is stable otherwise,” said the doctor.
The IAS officer’s movements, meanwhile, are known, but that has led to concern in government circles. An official at Nabanna said she went to Nabanna Monday, and joined top bureaucrats — including the director general of police, the home secretary, and some other senior IPS and IAS officers — for a meeting on providing thermal scanners at the check-posts along the India-Bangladesh border.
After spending hours at Nabanna, the IAS officer took her son to the M.R. Bangur Hospital, a super-speciality government hospital in the city, according to the official at the secretariat. Two senior doctors met the mother-son duo and asked them to report to the Beleghata ID Hospital. However, they did not go at the time.
The Nabanna official quoted above said health department officials later called the IAS officer and asked her to report to ID Hospital immediately with her son, but she took him for tests a day later. His samples were finally taken Tuesday, and the results came around 9 pm, showing that he was COVID-19 positive.
What happened since the results came out
Since the positive test, the youth’s parents, two drivers and two other people have been taken for ‘institute quarantine’, according to Ajay Chakraborty, director, health services.
“Two doctors, whom they met at M.R. Bangur Hospital, have been kept in home quarantine,” Chakraborty added.
The parents and the four other people were initially kept at the isolation facility that the state has built at Rajarhat, though the IAS officer was later moved to ID Hospital, according to Chakraborty.
ThePrint could not reach the family members for comment as they are in quarantine.
Anima Haldar, principal of the ID & BG Hospital, told ThePrint: “We have brought (the youth’s) mother here. She is a suspect. Her samples were sent to NICED (National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases in Kolkata) for tests. Reports are expected by late evening today. The patient is stable and undergoing treatment.”
Following reports of the IAS officer’s son testing positive for the coronavirus, things went haywire at Nabanna, said government sources. Top officials went into self-isolation. The home secretary’s wife, who is also the vice-chancellor of Calcutta University, also skipped office.
ThePrint reached the DGP, chief secretary and the home secretary through calls and texts, but there was no response.
Meanwhile, massive cleaning and sanitising work has started at Nabanna, and masks have been distributed to employees. The chief secretary is learnt to have cancelled all his scheduled meetings.
The CM announced that Nabanna employees may go home by 4 pm everyday to avoid rush hour.
“We will take strict action against those who would spread rumours involving the disease, and also against those who will try to hide their details,” Banerjee said.
“Anybody who has returned from any foreign land should go for a test. If they go undiagnosed, they may pose a threat to many. Until today, a total of 95,000 people have returned to the state from abroad. We cannot stop them from coming home, but we are requesting them to be responsible and vigilant,” she said.
What the future may hold
Haldar said the isolation facility at the ID Hospital is full. “We have around 24 isolation rooms, and all are full. Of 24, we have three swine flu patients, and the rest are under observation. Only one is positive for COVID-19. Every day, we are sending around 8 to 10 cases for tests,” she said.
Haldar added that as of now, a total of 70 samples have been tested, of which only the teenager has tested positive. More than 12,000 patients are under home quarantine.
Health services director Chakraborty added: “If the mother tests positive, we will have to quarantine many people, mainly those who have come in direct contact with her. As of now, we are isolating indirect contacts of the patient (the student). We are tracking those who have come into direct contact with him. We have been able to trace eight such people until now.”
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.
You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.
We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And have just turned three.
At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is.
This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it.
If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous and questioning journalism. Please click on the link below. Your support will define ThePrint’s future.