On March 17 and 18, when a group of 10 Indonesians visiting Karimnagar in Telangana tested positive for COVID-19, they were the first cases in the state, setting off a nationwide Tablighi Jamaat scare as they were traced back to the gathering in Delhi.
Less than a month later, Karimnagar is set to become the first district in Telangana to be free of coronavirus, with the last two of its 19 positive cases ready for discharge. The district has seen no deaths attributed to coronavirus.
From seven containment zones on April 5, Karimnagar town is down to just one, with restrictions lifted in the other six. Health officials said surveys showed no new cases outside the seven zones in the district.
District Medical and Health Officer Dr G Sujatha attributed the success to aggressive and extraordinary measures taken to contain the spread. “Even before the national lockdown was announced, we had sealed Karimnagar town, especially the affected zones. We also tracked 770 foreign returnees and after checking them, put them in home quarantine.”
Sujatha said District Collector K Shashanka formed teams and ordered door-to-door surveys to identify people who may have come in contact with the Indonesians. “Over 100 teams, each comprising a doctor, supervisor, ANM and ASHA workers, reached out to every family in areas the Indonesians had visited. The survey of every family member was done daily morning and evening.”
The Karimnagar cases had set off alarm bells as so many in one group, as well as their Indian guide, had tested positive — an epidemiological red flag.
Officials said at least 400 people from Telangana had participated in the Tablighi Jamaat meeting, at least 17 of them from Karimnagar. They returned between March 13 and March 18, with five of them accompanying the Indonesians.
The foreigners’ group was first noticed by police and a health worker, who reported it to authorities. The first Indonesian tested positive on March 17, the remaining nine the next day, after which they were moved to Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad. The group was found to have travelled from Delhi in a second-class coach of AP Sampark Kranti Express, got down on March 13 at Ramagundam in Peddapalli district, visited several mosques, travelled in a six-seater autorickshaw, and participated in at least four meetings before arriving in Karimnagar on March 14. In Karimnagar, they had again visited several mosques, as well as an institute where they interacted with students.
That meant tracing as many people as possible who had come in contact with them, including those on the train and the auto driver.
The district administration put special focus on senior citizens and those with co-morbidities in its surveys. “We reached out to people of 60 years and above and those with diabetes, hypertension, asthma and other ailments. As these people are highly vulnerable to the infection, we checked on them daily. A call centre was started to track their health,” Dr Sujatha said, adding that the helpline set up by the District Collector had also received queries from Saudi Arabia on the virus and its symptoms.
All private hospitals, government primary health centres and private doctors were told to report if any patient had fever, flu or other symptoms similar to coronavirus. The Indian Medical Association was roped in to conduct rapid fever surveys in particular areas.
In all, 480 samples were tested in the containment zones. The 19 cases that tested positive were admitted to District Hospital, of whom 17 have been treated and discharged. Shashanka said that while the door-to-door surveys continue, “Since three weeks no new cases have been reported.” As of April 24, 164 remain in home quarantine, all of whom are doing well. A medical team continues to visit them daily, morning and evening.
The two remaining active cases have recovered, as well as completed a 14-day quarantine. As the state has now extended quarantine to 28 days, they are waiting this to get over for discharge.
Among those already discharged are the Indonesians, who continue to be in Karimnagar, waiting for the lockdown to end to go home.
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