On a day the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) asked Madhya Pradesh government to explain why bureaucrats working with the Health Department were not moved to hospital isolation wards after testing positive for COVID-19, and what action has been taken against officials who failed to do so, the state government late on Tuesday gave Additional Chief Secretary Mohammed Suleman the charge of Health Department.
The 1989-batch IAS officer is senior to Pallavi Jain Govil, the 1994-batch officer who held the responsibility until Tuesday and is one of the officers who have tested positive.
Her decision to continue at work even on Sunday has been crtiticised by state Congress leaders.
A government spokesman said Govil has not been removed. “She is unavailable because she has tested positive,” he said. The government had kept a second line of officers ready for any such eventuality, the spokesperson said.
Sudama Khade,a 2006-batch officer, was made director (health).
Health Commissioner Faiz Ahmed Kidwai said a probe has been ordered on how so many staff in the Health Directorate got infected with the virus.
Earlier in the day, SHRC asked the government to reply by 5 pm Thursday. It sought details such as date and time of their test reports, why the officials were not moved to isolation wards immediately after testing positive, the number of other Health officials who were in touch with them, details of district officials responsible for admitting them, and action taken against such officials.
An IAS officer, part of the team tasked to deal with drugs, equipments and logistics, tested positive last Wednesday. Then Principal Secretary (Health) Govil subsequently tested positive. She continued to work, stating that her health was fine.
Unlike others who tested positive, the district administration did not paste the “do not visit” notice on homes of senior officials. While Govil and another officer moved to a hospital after being asked by the Chief Secretary, a deputy director relented only when threatened with suspension.
Govil told The Indian Express on Tuesday that she was still working (from isolation room) because she is fit and showed no symptoms. She said hospital beds are precious and should be reserved for those with need them the most.
On the charge that she refused to get admitted, Govil said she was disciplined and complied with the chief secretary’s instructions on hospitalisation.
Congress Rajya Sabha member and leading advocate Vivek Tankha had urged SHRC to take note of the alleged irresponsible behavior of officials, stating that “they are patients, not officers”. He and other state Congress leaders criticised the officials who tested positive for not only violating WHO guidelines but also endangering health of others.
The party argued that instead of quarantining herself for 14 days after her son returned from the US, as was expected from other people whose relatives returned from abroad, Govil continued to attend meetings.
Govil told The Indian Express that the US was not included in the government’s travel advisory (when her son returned). She said her son isolated himself in a separate room at their government accommodation between March 16 (when he returned) and March 30.
She said he was screened twice, did not show any symptoms and tested negative. There is no protocol that requires the entire family to remain in quarantine after a member returned from abroad.
Govil, a 1994-batch officer, said the moment an IAS officer tested positive others (in the special team) offered samples and went in isolation after testing positive. “I have knowledge of the department and not working was not an option in such crises,’’ she said. “The allegations (against her) were baseless.”
About so many Health officials getting diagnosed with COVID-19, Govil said people in her team could have got the infection from hospitals in Indore and Jabalpur, which they visited after the two districts reported many cases. “I and others follow a protocol. It’s a disciplined team – maybe they got the infection from an asymptomatic person.” she said.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had on Tuesday said, “Yes, they (infected officials) worked with me, but we maintained social distancing. We have kept replacements ready – even the third line is ready.”
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