As many as 270 passengers on board a Dubai-bound flight were on Sunday offloaded at Kochi airport, shortly before take-off, after a UK national tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The UK national, who was travelling with 18 others, had slipped out of quarantine from a Munnar hotel, officials said. He and his wife were brought down from the flight and placed under isolation at Kalamassery Medical College in Ernakulam district.
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The incident has raised serious questions over the efficacy of the surveillance measures at the airport and quarantine measures across hotels and resorts where foreign tourists are residing.
Speaking to reporters, Health Minister KK Shailaja said the British native, who had arrived in Kerala as part of a group of 19 on March 3, was placed under quarantine at Tea County resort in the hill station of Munnar after he showed symptoms of the virus. His swab samples were sent for testing.
After his results on Saturday night showed that he had contracted the virus, medical officials visited the resort to shift him to a government hospital where he could be treated in isolation.
“But on reaching the resort, our officials learnt that he, along with the group, had already for Kochi airport,” the minister said.
The district officials in Idukki immediately contacted their counterparts in Ernakulam in a bid to prevent the group from boarding the flight. By 8:45 am Sunday, the batch of 19, including the Covid-19 positive British tourist, had already boarded the aircraft, prompting CIAL authorities to offload the entire flight.
The infected person and his wife were shifted to the isolation ward at the Kalamassery Medical College and the rest of the batch is likely to be placed under quarantine at a hotel. The flight later took off with the remaining passengers.
“Resort owners have to be very careful. They cannot let anyone out without our knowledge. If a tourist tests negative and wishes to go back to his/her country, they can do so after completing the quarantine period,” the health minister said.
“The group had travelled in a single batch from Munnar to Kochi, so the level of transmission is not likely to be high. We will investigate how they escaped and who they may have come in contact with at the airport,” she added.
Sources say the British citizen and the rest of the travel group were aware of the quarantine measures at the resort and yet chose to leave the spot with the help of a travel agent.
A high-level meeting, attended by Power Minister MM Mani, in Idukki will deliberate on the action to be taken against the resort officials in Munnar. A contact tracing exercise will also be held to trace the movements of the British tourist, officials said.
After Maharashtra, which reported 31 confirmed cases, Kerala is the second most affected state with 22 cases (including three discharged).
On Saturday alone, 106 people were hospitalised in Kerala, while the state started supply of food directly to houses of those under observation. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said passengers in trains entering the state would be examined.
The number of coronavirus cases across the country rose to 107 on Sunday, the Ministry of Health Affairs said. Two persons have died so far. A total of 10 persons who tested positive, including three from Kerala, five from Uttar Pradesh and one each from Rajasthan and Delhi, have recovered and been discharged.
SAARC leaders are set to hold a summit via video-conference on coronavirus at 5 pm, as Pakistan late Friday night accepted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal for such a meeting.
The Union Home Ministry Saturday announced classification of coronavirus as a “notified disaster”, for the purpose of providing assistance under the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF).
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