Officers from the top rungs of the bureaucracy and civil administration, including some from the core teams of the Jammu & Kashmir government’s COVID-19 response force, were quarantined immediately after a senior IAS officer reported positive for the novel coronavirus when he was in a meeting with the chief secretary and other senior officers at the Civil Secretariat in Jammu on Saturday, 30 May.
Highly placed sources told The Quint that a 1993-batch IAS officer of the rank of principal secretary to the government, who was also overall in charge of the arrangements in place at the Srinagar airport for the stranded passengers returning to the Valley, tested positive for COVID-19 late on Saturday night.
His nasopharyngeal swab had been collected in accordance with the protocol for all passengers when he returned from Srinagar to Jammu on Friday.
Report Communicated During Meeting at Civil Secretariat
The infected IAS officer was in a meeting, which was presided over by Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam, for four hours in the meeting hall on the third floor of the Civil Secretariat.
Sources said that his test report was communicated to the top corridors of the government towards the conclusion of the meeting at around 10 pm. According to the sources present, the meeting hall was packed to its capacity and the infected IAS officer was not wearing a face mask. “Otherwise also, he is habitual of pulling down his mask in his routine conversations and meetings with colleagues and officials,” said a senior bureaucrat.
Even as the chief secretary was at a proper distance from the participants and was wearing a mask, he went into self-quarantine and directed all the bureaucrats and officers, who have come in physical contact with the infected IAS officer, to quarantine themselves until their tests come negative.
The chief secretary had already been living at a hotel in the Trikuta Nagar area of Jammu, isolating from his parents who are at an official bungalow in Gandhi Nagar, since the COVID-positive cases witnessed an upswing after the arrival of a large number of the travellers from Delhi and other places.
Bureaucrats Who Attended the Meeting
Senior IAS officers including Financial Commissioner, Health and Medical Education, Atal Dulloo, Principal Secretary, Power and the government’s designated spokesperson Rohit Kansal, Secretary In-charge, Disaster Management, Simrandeep Singh, Principal of Government Medical College, Jammu, Dr Naseeb Singh Dhingra, Head of the Department of Microbiology GMC, Jammu, Dr Shashi Soodan, Epidemiologist Dr ADS Manhas, Director Health Services, Jammu, Dr Renu Sharma, Director National Health Mission and Nodal Officer J&K for coronavirus pandemic Bhupinder Kumar, Managing Director, J&K Medical Supplies Corporation, Dr Yashpal, and some other officers, according to sources, participated in the high-level meeting with the COVID-positive IAS officer.
Even Dulloo was seen conveniently pulling down his face mask during his presentation on the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic during the meeting on Saturday.
Sources revealed that even before his meeting with the chief secretary and others at the Civil Secretariat on Saturday night, the infected IAS officer had met with a large number of officers, first during his week-long meetings in Srinagar and later after his arrival in Jammu. After a visit to New Delhi, he had arrived in Srinagar by a flight on 23 May. He had returned to Jammu on 29 May.
“He personally looked after the arrangements being put in place for screening and quarantine of the incoming passengers. We were with him in day-long meetings at Srinagar airport for four days,” said one of the senior officers now in quarantine.
Officer Now Quarantined in Jammu
“It’s not clear whether he had got infected in Delhi or contracted the infection at the Srinagar airport or onboard from Delhi to Srinagar or Srinagar to Jammu. But he has been quarantined in Jammu where his subsequent tests will be conducted as per the protocol,” the source added.
According to him, eleven passengers returning from the Gulf tested positive for COVID-19 recently after 14 others had already tested positive for the virus previously.
Swabs of all the incoming passengers are collected at the airport. Those whose tests are negative are sent home for 14-day isolation and those who test positive are held in an administrative quarantine till they recover.
On his arrival in Jammu, the IAS officer is said to have met with Divisional Commissioner Sanjeev Verma, while in Srinagar he was reportedly in close physical contact with Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir PK Pole, Deputy Commissioner Srinagar Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, incoming and outgoing DCs of Budgam, Shahbaz Mirza and Tariq Ganai, Mayor of Srinagar Municipal Corporation Junaid Azim Mattu, Commissioner SMC Gazanfar Ali Mir, Vice-Chairperson Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWWDA) Tufail Matoo, Director Industries Mehmood Shah and Secretary Tourism Zubair Ahmad, the director of Srinagar airport, and the commandant and deputy commandant of CISF besides personnel from the police and CRPF.
Other Officers Also Quarantined
All the officers who have come in contact with the IAS officer in the last seven days have been directed to immediately proceed to self-quarantine and get themselves tested five days after the last contact as per the protocol. Some of them, including the chief secretary, are continuing with their official business through phones and video conferences but a number of them have switched off their phones.
“It’s an extremely serious situation that the top rungs of bureaucracy and the corona response teams have been immobilised at a crucial juncture when the number of positive cases has shown a remarkable increase in J&K,” said an official.
He said Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu had been advised to avoid physical contact and meetings with his advisors, bureaucrats, and other visitors for some time. “Consequently, the government is now running on the internet, WhatsApp, smartphones and video conferences,” he added.
According to Government Order No: 611-JK(GAD) of 2020 dated 31 May, Secretary Youth Services and Sports Sarmad Hafeez, Special Secretary Finance Shamim Ahmad Wani, and Executive Director J&K Entrepreneur Development Institute Ghulam Mohammad Dar have been deployed at the Srinagar airport for assisting the coronavirus mitigation efforts. They have replaced Secretary Tourism Zubair Ahmad, VC of LAWWDA Tufail Matoo, and Director Industries Mehmood Shah, all of whom have been asked to self-quarantine.
On 24 May, advisor to Lieutenant Governor Rajeev Rai Bhatnagar had proceeded to self-quarantine after two of his family members, on their arrival from New Delhi, had tested positive for COVID-19.