ON THE day Kerala reported a third case of the Novel Coronavirus (nCoV 2019) and declared the outbreak as a “state calamity”, the central government set up a Group of Ministers (GoM) to monitor measures taken across the country to prevent the virus from spreading further.
Officials said the latest patient, from Kasaragod district, is a student in Wuhan — the Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak — and had travelled back to India 10 days ago. All the three cases are “out of danger” with “normal symptoms of infection”, officials said.
State Health Department officials said the third patient, a 22-year-old man, took the same route to return home — via Kunming in China, Kolkata and Kochi — as the first two patients who were also students in Wuhan. “But, he travelled on a different flight. In fact, the third case has thrown up a new batch of contacts to be traced. We have put other passengers of the flights under the high-risk category, and their status is under close observation,’’ sources said.
Last Thursday, officials announced the first case and said that the patient is a 20-year-old woman from Thrissur. The second case, a 22-year-old man from Alappuzha, was reported Sunday. Their samples were among an initial batch of 20 tested in Kerala.
Confirming the “third positive case”, the Union Health Ministry said in a statement: “The patient has a travel history from Wuhan in China…and is in isolation in the hospital. The patient is stable and is being closely monitored.”
Kerala government officials said 2,239 persons from the state who had been to China recently have been put under observation, including 2,155 under home quarantine, while 84 have been isolated in hospitals.
State Health Minister K K Shailaja said the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) has decided to declare the epidemic as a state calamity. “There are chances of more positive cases emerging in the coming days. Surveillance and control measures have been strengthened across Kerala. As on Monday, 140 samples from patients isolated in hospitals have been sent to the National Institute of Virology in Pune for tests, and 46 have been negative,’’ she said.
According to SDMA member secretary, Dr Sekhar Kuriakose, once a “state calamity” is declared, various aspects of administration come under the ambit of the Disaster Management Act. In effect, the move gives more powers to district collectors in taking decisions, with overall monitoring being done by a five-member team of senior government secretaries.
In 2016, a blaze set off by firecrackers, which killed over 100 at a temple near Kollam, was declared a state calamity.
In Delhi, meanwhile, five of those who were evacuated from Wuhan and quarantined at the Army’s facility in Manesar were moved to the Base Hospital after they displayed symptoms of cough and cold. Their samples, which were taken to AIIMS, tested negative.
The central government’s GoM comprises Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri, MoS Home G Kishan Reddy, MoS Health Ashwini Kumar Choubey, and MoS Shipping Mansukh Lal Mandaviya.
Officials told the GoM in its first meeting, which was chaired by Vardhan, that a total of 72,353 passengers on 593 flights arriving from China, Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore have been screened so far.
They said 2,815 persons are currently under community surveillance. Of 338 samples sent for testing, three have been found positive and 335 negative, while 70 are being processed.
The GoM was informed that NIV-Pune has been made the nodal centre for coordinating diagnostics while 12 regional labs are involved in testing the samples.
The briefing also covered preventive measures put in place, status of positive cases, travel advisories, and the situation at the two quarantine centres with 645 persons evacuated from Wuhan.
Principal Secretary to the PM P K Mishra, NSA Ajit Doval, Principal Adviser to the PM P K Sinha, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, and secretaries of other ministries were also present in that meeting.
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