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Delhi: 500 cases in a day, no more 14-day quarantine after coronavirus duty for healthcare workers

The capital reported 500 new cases on Tuesday — the highest single-day spike — and six more deaths as guidelines for lockdown relaxations came into force. Total cases stand at 10,554, while 166 people have died and 4,750 have recovered or been discharged from hospitals.

Written by Astha Saxena | New Delhi | Updated: May 20, 2020 3:40:26 am
Over 500 healthcare workers in the capital have tested positive for the virus so far. (Express photo by Prem Nath Pandey)

In a decision that has riled a section of healthcare workers, the Delhi government has issued fresh guidelines that do away with the need for 14-day quarantine for all doctors, nurses and other staff after finishing Covid-19 duty. The new guidelines are in accordance with a circular issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on May 15.

The capital reported 500 new cases on Tuesday — the highest single-day spike — and six more deaths as guidelines for lockdown relaxations came into force. Total cases stand at 10,554, while 166 people have died and 4,750 have recovered or been discharged from hospitals.

Delhi Health Secretary Padmini Singla, in the order, said staff will go into quarantine only if they have had “high-risk exposure” while dealing with Covid-19 patients or handling samples without PPE kits. “Regular quarantine of healthcare workers after performing duty in Covid-19 areas is not warranted, except as elaborated under protocol of high-risk and low-risk contact,” stated the order.

Quarantine will also be required if healthcare staff come in contact with a positive person (within a distance of 1 m) for more than 15 minutes without mask, face shield or goggles. High-risk contacts will be quarantined for 14 days and tested.

However, healthcare workers on the frontlines have raised objections to the new guidelines. Over 500 healthcare workers in the capital have tested positive for the virus so far, including many not posted in Covid-designated hospitals.

The Federation of Resident Doctors’ Association (FORDA) has written to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan to revoke the order. “The virus has an incubation period of 2-14 days following exposure. There are multiple instances of doctors testing positive for the disease following a second test or subsequently after that… Under the current situation, 14-day quarantine, along with adequate testing of all doctors, after Covid-19 duty is necessary in order to prevent spread of infection among colleagues,” said FORDA president Dr Shivaji Dev Barman.

“By following this order, we are putting our family and colleagues at risk. A doctor who worked in the Covid-19 ward yesterday has been asked to join duty within a few hours of coming in contact with a suspected/confirmed case. The infection will spread to other people. We have given our presentation to the Ministry and are waiting for an official confirmation,” said Dr Joyutpal Biswas from the Resident Doctors’ Association of Safdarjung Hospital. The RDA has requested the ministry to allow quarantine for atleast a week.

Safdarjung medical superintendent, in an order said, “All healthcare workers who are going to complete 14 days (Covid duty) will continue their quarantine of 10 days at home, instead of staying in hotels, from May 18.”

On Monday, resident doctors of RML Hospital staying in hotels during their quarantine period were asked to vacate their rooms immediately, failing which their salaries would be deducted for overstaying. The order was issued by the hospital, however, no such directives have been sent by Central Ministry.

Before the government order, doctors were sent for two-week quarantine at hotels arranged by the Delhi government after Covid duty lasting two weeks. “If doctors are asked to go back home the next day — with many of them having small children and old parents — or to hostels where they share rooms, it will increase the chance of exposure. Even after carrying out Covid duties with adequate PPEs, there have been instances of healthcare workers testing positive,” said a resident doctor from RML Hospital.

On Tuesday, however, the administration relaxed the rules and asked doctors to vacate rooms by May 25. Dr Minakshi Bharadwaj, RML Hospital medical superintendent, said “They have been given time to vacate in compliance with the Ministry’s new quarantine guidelines.”

Hospital administrations are also calling back doctors under quarantine. “As per the orders, we will have to call them back. However, the risk of catching infection will now rise. They will be exposed to many more staff members. How will the government contain the virus like this?” said a senior doctor from Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital.

On Tuesday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the government’s main priority was to ensure the death rate remains low. Delhi’s Covid fatality rate is 1.57% at present. “If you look at figures in Delhi, the rate is already low. There are close to 1,800 people in hospitals; of those, only about 150 are in serious condition. I am personally tracking the progress of each,” he told a TV news channel Tuesday.

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