The Civil Hospital in Jalalabad’s Fazilka discharged nine people — all pilgrims who had returned from Hazur Sahib in Maharashtra’s Nanded and all put in quarantine at the health facility — minutes before Ferozepur MP and Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal reached there to install an RT-PCR machine.
The pilgrims were brought back to the hospital next day and later four of them tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The issue is now led to a trading of charges between the ruling Congress and the Opposition party with the SAD trying to dissociate Sukhbir’s visit from patients’ discharge and the local Congress MLA raising the issue of “VIP culture”.
Sukhbir, who vacated the Jalalabad Assembly seat after being elected to the Lok Sabha, had visited the hospital, designated as a COVID-19 unit by the state government, on April 27. All nine pilgrims, who had returned to Jalalabad on April 26 and were quarantined at the hospital (copy of their entry in the register of the hospital is with The India Express), were sent back to their families.
They were brought back the next morning after the Civil Surgeon of Fazilka, Dr Surinder Singh raised an objection and ordered they be brought back immediately. While he issued the orders on April 27 itself, the pilgrims could be brought back the next day only. Their samples were taken on April 28 and on May 1, four of them tested positive. Their families have now been home quarantined.
Interestingly, on the discharge slips of these patients, (copies with The Indian Express), the hospital wrote that they did not have any travel history and were asymptomatic and that were being home-quarantined for 14 days.
One of the patients, a 22-year-old man told The Indian Express from the hospital confirmed that they were told to go home on April 27. “We were asked to go home. While my cousin and I stayed the night at my house in Chakk Jamaal village, my aunt and six others went back to their house in Jalalabad. When we woke up in the morning, we found police at our doorstep. They wanted us to leave our house immediately. It was then that our samples were taken,” he said.
The patient said they were brought to Jalalabad hospital soon after they came back from Hazur Sahib.
The CMO too confirmed that the nine pilgrims were sent home by the hospital and upon learning “I ordered that they should be traced wherever they are and should be brought back; the police was then sent to their houses”.
On whether they were discharged due to Sukhbir’s visit, the CMO said, “Sukhbirji’s visit was a different issue. He had come to the hospital to get the RT-PCR machine installed there. Their discharge was a separate issue”.
The issue is now assuming political propositions with Jalalabad MLA Raminder Awla accusing Sukhbir Badal of “impressing upon the hospital to discharge the suspects as their presence could pose a threat to his health.”
“This is shocking that the people who were in hospital quarantine were discharged just an hour before Sukhbir Badal arrived. For a VIP’s visit they posed a risk of COVID-19 to so many members of the pilgrims’ families. Who is responsible for that? This is a very sad state of affairs,” the Congress leader said.
To a question that it was his party’s government in the state and yet the hospital was being cleared of the patients for a SAD leader’s visit, Awla said, “This is a separate issue. This is about Sukhbir Badal who asked the hospital to send these people home as he wanted to be safe.”
Contacted, senior SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia, speaking on behalf of Sukhbir Badal, said, “It is not about Jalalabad alone, the pilgrims were sent back home in all the districts of the state. Was Sukhbir Badal going to all those hospitals? By raising this issue, Congress is wanting to cover its tracks. They should send Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu home. In fact, for such lapses, they should book the Health Minister for gross negligence and putting the people in the harm’s way.”
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