New Delhi: Of the 121 coronavirus cases in Madhya Pradesh’s capital, Bhopal, more than half are linked to its health department employees and their families. The health department, which is responsible for fighting Covid-19 in the state, has itself become a hotspot.
A senior official of the department, who didn’t want to be named, told ThePrint that “this was the failure of planning by the bureaucracy and a result of their overconfidence”, adding that “with 35 officials of the health department testing positive for Covid, we have been kept in quarantine. Now, tests of our family members have also started coming positive. There are over 50 coronavirus cases in the city which are related to the health department, which is over half the cases in Bhopal.”
So far, Madhya Pradesh has recorded 483 coronavirus cases with the highest number, 249, in Indore. Till date, 30 have died in Indore, five in Ujjain, two in Khargone and one each in Bhopal, Chhindwara, Ratlam and Dewas. Indore also had the first case of a doctor dying of Covid-19 in India.
How the health department became a hotspot
Pramod Goyal of Bhopal’s Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme returned to the city from Indore on a bus on the night of 21 March. He went to his office for the next two days, but had a temperature and was coughing. Despite showing symptoms akin to coronavirus he was asked to go home and rest instead of being sent for testing.
The health department official alleges “the department heads showed callousness and despite recognising the symptoms, didn’t do anything about it. Otherwise we would have known of the spread of infection before 25 March.”
On 22 March, the department ignored all the norms of social distancing and held a regular meeting of 80—100 people of the National Health Mission. That day, Swati Meena took over as Director of NHM and she was feted with much fanfare in the office. The department’s Chief Secretary Pallavi Jain Govil also participated in the welcome and ordered the officials of the health department to go to the districts to oversee Covid-19 preparedness.
The health ministry official said, “In the beginning, there was a failure of planning and overconfidence of the bureaucrats, which brought this calamity upon us. There was no proper monitoring and testing kits were not available. In fact, the health department didn’t even know what kind of testing kits were needed.”
IAS officer, J Vijay Kumar, CEO of the state’s Ayushman Bharat programme and the key person in the city’s battle against the virus, was the first one to test positive for Covid-19. Along with him, around a dozen other IAS officers who had been in touch with him, have been self-quarantined.
Pallavi Jain Govil also tested positive and started working from home; she brought out the health bulletin on 5 April just the day after her test result came back.
The state health department officials went to her home to take care of her. She did not get admitted to a hospital nor did she go to a hospital for her check-up. Pictures emerged of her not wearing a mask during her check-up and department officials seen caring for her.
She has been accused of not disclosing that her son had returned from the US while she continued to hold meetings. The test reports of her family members didn’t show any infection, but there was a quarantine notice stuck to the exterior of her residence. Her son was screened at Delhi airport on arrival from US on 16 March and he quarantined himself at home in Bhopal till 30 March. He has shown no symptoms of the virus and remains healthy.
Meanwhile the Additional Director, Health, Dr Veena Sinha, tested positive and is also self-quarantining. Those who came in contact with her have also been tested and quarantined.
Pallavi Jain Govil took part in review meetings with the Chief Minister, Mr Shivraj Singh Chouhan, via video conferencing, at which she told him she was fine and working from home. The CM praised her courage. She said she was on self-quarantine but fit enough to keep working 10-12 hours. The CM lauded her for her dedication and called her “our warrior”.
Removal of infected officials
With a number of officials testing positive, questions are being raised about the health department itself. To improve the functioning of the health department, Shivraj Singh Chouhan has inducted officials of his choice in the department. He has removed those infected and brought his chosen ones to helm the health department.
Pallavi Jain Govil has been replaced by Mohammed Suleiman, who has been made Additional Chief Secretary and Vijay Kumar has been replaced by Dr Sudam Pandharinath Khade as Director.
Coronavirus scare reaches Raj Bhavan
The Bhopal governor’s residence went into a tizzy when they found out that Pallavi Jain Govil had tested positive for coronavirus. Governor Lalji Tandon and six other officials were immediately tested and all were found negative. An official of Raj Bhavan told The Print, “Principal Secretary, Health, Pallavi Jain and other officials had come to the Governor’s residence and once their report came positive, the Governor and other officials were immediately tested. Their reports are negative.”