An 85-year-old general surgeon died hours after he tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Mumbai Thursday night. The primary test reports of his son, a cardiac surgeon in his late fifties, and grandson, are positive; their confirmatory test reports are awaited.
The 85-year-old, who had underlying conditions of diabetes and heart disease, is suspected to have caught the infection from his grandson, who returned from the UK on March 12. While his son was quarantined at their home in Girgaum, the cardiac surgeon continued his consultations at Sir H N Reliance Hospital and Saifee Hospital. He has claimed he stopped doing surgeries a week ago. Local authorities are now trying to trace his patients.
“We have informed other municipal wards to reach out to these hospitals and track all patients treated by him. We suspect he had not informed the hospitals about his son’s travel history,” a civic official said.
Sir H N Reliance Hospital declined to comment on whether the cardiac surgeon had consulted patients in the last 15 days.
Even after testing positive Thursday evening, the cardiac surgeon and his son reportedly refused to get admitted to an isolation ward. On Friday morning, when Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) officials, accompanied by police personnel, reached their South Mumbai residence, they insisted they would remain in home isolation. “We threatened to use police force; they agreed eventually,” a BMC official said.
“The problem in this case was that the samples were sent to a private laboratory for testing. These samples need to be reconfirmed by a second test in a government laboratory. The two people who tested positive must have been allowed to leave because a confirmatory test was pending. We will inquire into this,” Anup Kumar Yadav, Director, National Health Mission, said.
The 85-year-old developed cough and cold earlier this week. On Thursday, he was taken to Saifee Hospital’s CT scan department. He underwent a scan and doctors suspected coronavirus. His swab was immediately sent to Metropolis laboratory, a private lab, for testing. By then, he had interacted with the hospital’s head of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), nurses and other staff members.
Dr Vernon Desa, medical director of Saifee Hospital, said the CT scan unit was disinfected and its staff advised home quarantine. “All containment and surveillance measures have been implemented to ensure the safety of our staff, patients, and visitors,” he said. The hospital continues to remain operational, he added.
After the 85-year-old’s swab tested positive, he was shifted to Hinduja Hospital, one of the government-approved isolation facilities among private hospitals.
By Thursday evening, the cardiac surgeon and his son had also tested positive.
The 85-year-old died around 12.30 am Friday, after developing respiratory complications. By 4.30 am, his last rites were held at a private cemetery on Charni Road. A civic official said they were not involved in the process.
“We have issued guidelines to private hospitals on wearing personal protective equipment while conducting the last rites. Hinduja Hospital must have provided protective gear, we don’t know what procedure was undertaken. It was done privately,” said the official.
Another official said that by the time they received information and arrived at the residence, the funeral was over. “They (family) initially kept giving us names of different burial grounds,” said an official.
According to the protocol for infectious diseases, the body has to be sealed in a plastic bag and disinfected with sodium hypochlorite. No family member is allowed to touch it.
“The family members claimed they did not participate in the funeral, and a family friend conducted it. We are trying to verify their claim,” said a police officer.
Meanwhile, the samples of four more family members have been sent for testing. They have all been isolated for now.
As per protocol, a government hospital immediately isolates all close contacts of a COVID-19 patient and tests them. They are only discharged if they test negative. Private hospitals are expected to follow the same protocol.
Hinduja Hospital did not comment on why the body was released to the family for the last rites. State officials said since the confirmatory test report remains pending, an inquiry will be held if the case is confirmed as COVID-19.
“Personally, it was disheartening for me that a family of doctors behaved in such a way. We are trying so hard to contain the infection,” said Suresh Kakani, Additional Municipal Commissioner, BMC. He said Hinduja Hospital should not have released the body to the family since the primary test report was positive.
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