New Delhi: Uttarakhand Tourism Minister Satpal Maharaj, his wife and 22 other family and staff members have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, forcing Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat and three other ministers who attended a cabinet meeting with him on 29 May into to self-quarantine.
Meanwhile, staff members at the Uttarakhand Sachivalaya in Dehradun are staying away from work for at least three days, after their pleas to shut the secretariat received no response.
“There are so many staff members and officials who must have come in contact with the minister. He also signed a few files. So, naturally, many others are also at risk. We had asked the government Sunday to seal the building and sanitise it, but got no response, so we decided to not attend the office for at least three days,” said Deepak Joshi, president of the 1,500-member Uttarakhand Secretariat Association told ThePrint.
“Coronavirus doesn’t ask before infecting a minister or a peon, so we decided to close it ourselves. We have demanded that secretariat should be shut for at least a week. We have urged the government to sanitise it and open it only after a week,” Joshi said.
Guests from Delhi visited during lockdown
Maharaj, who is also a spiritual leader with a following across the country, was diagnosed Sunday, a day after his wife and former minister Amrita Rawat tested positive for Covid-19.
After Amrita’s positive test, samples of 41 members of the family and staff were analysed. Maharaj and 21 others tested positive Sunday, while another staff member came up positive Monday, taking the total in this cluster to 24.
“There are three couples in the family who have tested positive — Satpal Maharaj, his wife Amrita, their two sons and their wives — and a grandson too,” said an AIIMS Rishikesh official on condition of anonymity. The family underwent treatment at this hospital, and while the minister and his wife are still there, other family members have been discharged and sent to home quarantine.
The Dehradun administration had placed Maharaj’s private residence under quarantine after the visit of a few people from Delhi during the lockdown. A quarantine notice was posted on the residence after it came to light that two of his guests had tested positive.
However, the minister had then pointed out that the guests from Delhi were staying in one part of the house, and he lived in another part, with both having separate entrances.
“The notice clearly stated that from 20 May to 3 June, the residence was under quarantine, and during this period no one was supposed to enter or exit it. But later, the minister gave another argument that the portions were different and had different entrances and exits. This is a gross violation, and has now put so many people under a great risk,” said another official who requested anonymity.
Contact-tracing in constituency
Officials have now begun tracing people who may have come in contact with Maharaj or his family or staff. But this has caused a tizzy because sources said Maharaj, his wife and staff had distributed rations among his constituents Chaubattakhal.
“His public relations staff had distributed ration and carried out some relief work in his constituency, so we are waiting for their samples. If the samples come positive we will carry out contact-tracing of all those who were part of the relief work,” said another state government official who wished not to be identified.
“According to the contact-tracing protocol, we are identifying high-risk contacts and preparing a list. It is a big jump of corona-positive cases in a single day, so definitely, it is a major challenge. As public representatives, they end up meeting a lot of people, and that is being watched closely,” said a third senior government official.
Contact-tracing has already been completed in the tourism department as Maharaj had chaired two meetings last week.
“For quarantining all those who attended the meeting, we have got in touch with the health department. According to the health protocol, merely sharing the room with a positive person is not constituted as high-risk. But a final decision on who is being quarantined will be taken soon,” said Ashish Srivastav, the district magistrate of Dehradun.
However, officials who attended the cabinet meeting on 29 May have still not been quarantined.
“The chief minister and the three ministers decided to go for self-quarantine at home. The district magistrate is looking at the entire situation, and if he issues some directions, a decision will be taken on whether the officials who attended the meeting will be,” said Madan Kaushik, cabinet minister and government spokesperson told ThePrint.
“As for the functioning of the government, we have carried out our work online, and will continue to do so,” he said.
However, sources say officials such as the chief secretary, additional chief secretary and other senior officials who attended that meeting have self-quarantined too.
(This report has been updated to reflect that the name of Satpal Maharaj’s wife is Amrita Rawat. The error is regretted.)