By Sirshendu Panth
Kolkata, March 19 (IANS) It’s turning out to be a horror story of administrative laxity and an utter contempt of social responsibility at the way a senior West Bengal Home Ministry official serially ignored – or was allowed to ignore – all coronavirus prevention protocols as she roamed the streets, crowded places and the seat of the state government with her teenage son, now confirmed as the state’s first Covid-19 patient, turning down repeated requests from doctors to hospitalise him.
There is now panic at the Secretariat Nabanna with the Home Secretary and the Director General of Police (DGP) entering isolation – the University of Calcutta, one state-run hospital as also a South Kolkata shopping mall, besides the posh housing society where the family resides, not to mention the large number of support staff or man on the streets who stand at grave risk of the disease that has claimed around 9,000 lives across the globe.
With Calcutta University Vice-Chancellor Sonali Chakravarti Banerjee happening to be the Home Secrerary’s wife, she has also gone into quarantine. There was anxiety in the academic circles also, as she had on Tuesday attended a meeting where Education Minister Partha Chatterjee and VCs of other universities were also present.
But that’s not all. The Oxford University student’s father, a noted child specialist himself, is also facing criticism for ‘paying scant regard’ to medical ethics as he travelled to a municipality, about 100 km from the city, called on district officials and examined patients after allegedly meeting his son.
A chronological account of the events brings out, what many are calling, a saga of monumental blunders.
It all started with the teenager returning to Kolkata on March 15 from London, days after he attended a birthday party on March 6 where he danced with a girl who later tested positive for coronavirus.
It’s not clear whether the boy took the flight after coming to know about the girl’s infection or was unaware of it. According to some reports, the family got to know of her condition after he reached home.
There are also allegations that the boy, who apparently didn’t show any coronavirus symptoms, was let go at the NSCBI Airport, considering his family’s clout. However, health department sources claimed he was asked at the airport to go for self-isolation and visit the state referral hospital for infectious diseases – ID Hospital, Beliaghata.
But, on Monday, his mother took him to the M.R. Bangur Hospital where he was examined by a doctor, assisted by an attendant at the deputy superintendent’s chamber. According to a close friend of the doctor, the boy had ‘cough’ when he landed in Kolkata, but lied at the airport.
“Supdt Bangur asked my friend to examine. On going there, he found him to be a 18-year-old…who danced with a girl on March 6, who has tested positive for Covid-19. He had cough and yet didn’t divulge anything at the airport as he claimed that he didn’t know. Neither was…(the doctor) asked to go in protective gear,” he said in a social media post.
There, the teenager was again asked to go to ID Hospital, but he and his mother instead went to a shopping mall. From there, they went to the Writers’ Buildings and then to Nabanna. The teenager, however, didn’t enter Nabanna, but his mother took the VIP lift to the 12th floor office of Home Secretary Alapan Bandopadhyay for a scheduled meeting.
Ironically, the agenda of the meeting was related to strengthening the mechanism for prevention of coronavirus by ascertaining the number of foreigners coming to India from Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, their health screening and the number of suspected patients isolated.
Besides Bandopadhyay, DGP Virendra and two officials of the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office, here, attended the meeting. All four are now in isolation.
On the other hand, the teenager’s father met him on Monday morning, and then drove to Nadia district’s Krishna Nagar, where he attended office at the municipality on both Monday and Tuesday, and even examined some children at his house there. He also met his friends.
However, the child specialist claimed he never entered his son’s room, and spoke to him from outside on Monday.
The teenager was finally admitted to the ID Hospital on Tuesday morning, and his test results were received in the evening, confirming the infection. The teenager’s parents, and two drivers were also hospitalised and tested. Their results have been negative, but all four would be kept in isolation for 14 days and tested again.
“Unless there is a minimum level of viraemia, it can’t be detected by tests. That means the virus may be there in your body, and you may be spreading it to others, but that can’t be detected. We call this window period. If first test is negative, we have to keep the patients under observation and then go for test again, ” said critical care specialist Arindam Kar.
At the housing society where the family stays, people seem terror-stricken. “This is criminal negligence. Just because you hold a high post, it doesn’t mean you can do anything, regardless of the society,” said a resident.
The question being raised in various circles is why the teenager was not forced to come to ID Hospital earlier. “Is it because his mother is an influential official?” said a middle level official.
What’s more serious is that soon after the meeting at his office on Monday, the Home Secretary had attended another one convened by the Chief Minister, where a host of central and state government officials were present.
“It remains to be seen whether the Mamata Banerjee government acts against the official. If it doesn’t, it will only result in her administration losing whatever credibility it’s left with,” said a senior CPI-M leader.