How Well Is Karnataka Health Dept Tracking Foreign Returnees?
Even before a nationwide lockdown was announced and all domestic flights grounded, Karnataka Health Department had amped up its effort to trace and check-up on all those who had returned from abroad to Bengaluru.
Stamping the hands of those who flew internationally, IVR calls, visiting homes to ensure people comply with the 14-day mandatory home quarantine... have all been a part of the department’s effort to curtail the spread of coronavirus. According to BBMP Commissioner Anil Kumar, about 22,000 Bengaluru residents who returned from abroad would be visited by a special team comprising a beat officer and a health official from 22-25 March.
“We have covered 5,000 people on 22 March, another 6,000 or so people on Monday and the remaining 10,000 or so on the last day. We will increase the number of teams and ensure that all those who are supposed to be on home quarantine are visited, stamped with the end date of the quarantine and notices put outside their homes,” Kumar said.
While Kumar says there are 22-30,000 cases where home quarantine has been mandated in Bengaluru, figures posited by Health Department are much lower.
Dr K Sudhakar, medical education minister, said repeated violations by those in home quarantine such as providing incorrect numbers or switching off phones, have hindered the follow-up process. This has compelled authorities to constitute special teams to check up on them.
“If one person is quarantined in the house, then we are going to put one notice outside their door, for others to identify and not to mix with them. People are switching off their phones and giving wrong numbers in the airport making it hard for us to track. In the future, we are planning to employ a technology to track people by their phone numbers, including whom they interact with. We will provide more details on this,” he said.
Meanwhile, Karnataka Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai said on Monday that as per IPC Section 271 (disobeying quarantine orders), if people under quarantine step out of home, a case will be filed against them, leading to six months’ imprisonment.
While some Bengaluru residents tweeted appreciating Health Department’s efforts, The Quint spoke to three passengers with different experiences: one who flew in last week after the measures had been put in place, one at a time when the measures had been announced and one in early March, to compare the protocol followed
‘Stamped at Airport, Called, Visited at Home’
Manish Agarwal, an employee at a private firm, landed in Bengaluru from South America via Dubai on 20 March. He was happy with the Health Department’s efforts but said large crowds at the airport and the quarantine facility could further spread the infection.
“The arrangement at the airport was pretty good but everyone was packed together as we waited to get screened. They should have provided masks to the passengers there itself, but they actually gave it us at the quarantine facility where everyone was taken regardless of their condition. There was a round of doctor diagnosis and our detailed history was taken. As I was categorised as a C category flier (low-risk, asymptomatic), I was asked to home quarantine till 4 April,” he said.
Agarwal told us he received calls checking up on his health on 21 and 22 March, followed by a visit on Sunday when he was stamped again and his quarantine extended by two days, till 6 April.
‘Neither Screened Nor Stamped’
Niharika Alva, a graduate living in the UK, returned to Bengaluru from London’s Heathrow via Mumbai on 18 March. The 24-year-old said that while her temperature was checked when she landed in Mumbai, she was not screened, stamped or asked any questions about her travel history in Bengaluru.
“I was in one of the last flights that landed in India on 18 March, right before they banned flights from UK. I was not given any instructions in Mumbai, possibly because they saw my port of exit was Bengaluru. But here, they didn’t do anything. I just took my bags and walked out, and had to call the health department after reaching home for instructions on what to do. Since I was asymptomatic, and they saw me as a domestic flier as I had come from Mumbai, they did not do anything,” she said.
The confusion over the port of exit is likely to be one of the reasons why Alva was not screened as a international arrival in Bengaluru.
“Otherwise, you can literally walk around infecting people,” she said. Alva was also not contacted by the health department’s ‘special’ teams as a follow up, even though she landed in Bengaluru a week ago.
Even though the order to start stamping international passengers arriving in Bengaluru had come into effect from 18 March, Kumar said they started following the procedure from 20 March.
‘Landed on 6 March, Have Been Getting Calls’
After landing on 6 March from San Francisco, Nikhil Jois R said that his temperature was checked multiple times at the airport and his personal details were collected.
He recalled that it was very crowded so the authorities were doing the best they could.
”Over the next week, they contacted me. The frequency has increased over the last few days. One was a recorded call where I had to report if I had symptoms or not, another was from the police asking about my health. The cop wanted to come yesterday, but once I assured him I was fine, he was assured,” said the start-up founder.
International fliers are reportedly being traced on the basis of forms filled by them at the airport. However, estimates of how many people are to be in home quarantine differ greatly from one government organisation to another.