Srinagar: Panic gripped Chuchot Gongma, a village about 20 km from Leh, where a resident, who had tested negative for COVID-19 twice and was discharged from hospital, was readmitted Friday along with his family members, including a toddler, after his third test results came positive.
Officials in Ladakh told ThePrint the incident happened because of a miscommunication between authorities in Leh and the testing facility in New Delhi. The patient, the officials said, had only come in contact with his immediate family members as he was asked to stay in isolation after his discharge.
The patient, a cab driver by profession, was first admitted to Leh’s Sonam Norboo Memorial Hospital after his father-in-law tested positive following his return from a religious pilgrimage in Iran on 27 February.
Panic in village
Haji Ghulam Mohammad Chow, the village sarpanch, said the patient’s father-in-law had shown flu symptoms and was taken to a town hospital.
After he tested positive, health authorities collected samples of the patient and his family members, all of which came negative.
The cab driver was quarantined at Ladakh Heart Foundation, a Leh-based NGO, where the administration has set up isolation facilities.
However, authorities were not satisfied with the patient’s results and he was kept in quarantine for a few more days while his family was sent home. This included his mother-in-law, wife, sister-in-law and three-year-old son.
“His samples were sent again. However, four days ago, he was released. He called me and said that his tests had come back negative. The entire village heaved a sigh of relief but yesterday (Friday) after spending three whole days with his family, he was taken aback. Authorities told us that his third test has come positive,” Chow told ThePrint.
His family members were taken as well because authorities suspected that he might have infected them as well, Chow added.
There was panic in the village, which houses more than 3,000 people, after the news spread that the entire family is being taken to the hospital.
The village is already under “containment”, a form of community quarantine after nearly ten COVID-19 cases came to light.
“People had observed discipline during containment. No two people gather at a place even when they have to buy essential supplies. People walk alone and buy stuff alone. But after this news people were angered by it and confronted the administration,” Chow said.
‘Negligence’ by Leh administration
Prominent social activist from the region Sajjad Kargili pointed out the negligence on the part of the administration of the newly created union territori and called for action against the lacklustre approach of the local administration.
“The situation here is extremely serious. First, the pilgrims were not screened at the airport on their return despite it being known how bad the situation in Iran is. To control damage, villages were then put under containment. But will the containment exercise work if the government is sending back patients without being sure if they have tested negative. Leh and Kargil need immediate attention,” Kargili said.
A total of 13 COVID-19 cases have been detected in Ladakh, according to the administration, and multiple villages across the region have been put under containment.
Rigzin Samphel, Commissioner Secretary (Health), told ThePrint there was no violation of protocol.
“We test the patient once after showing symptoms. In this case, the test came negative but doctors weren’t satisfied. So they sent his sample again. At this point there was some confusion at the testing centre and we were informed that they have not received the second sample so a third sample was sent.”
Meanwhile, the second sample was found at the testing centre and that too came negative. This was communicated to doctors in Leh, who discharged him. But when the third sample that had by then reached the centre was tested, the results came out positive, Samphel said.
“Fortunately the patient belongs to a place, which is sealed and contained. He had minimal interaction. He was also told to isolate himself and did not meet many people except his family,” Samphel added.
ThePrint tried to contact Ladakh BJP MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, but he didn’t answer to calls and text messages.