AS THE Supreme Court Friday stayed an interim order by the Orissa High Court asking the state government to ensure that the migrants seeking to come back “should (have) tested negative” for Covid-19, concerns are rising in the state about cases linked to returning workers.
Ganjam district, that had two cases on May 2, has 47 now, all linked to migrant labourers coming from hotspot Surat in Gujarat. In the orange zone earlier, Ganjam now is third in Odisha in number of cases, after Jajpur (55) and Khurda (50). On Friday, a 40-year-old migrant worker who had returned from Surat was found dead at a quarantine centre in Ganjam district. Authorities said he had epilepsy.
Other districts in Odisha have also reported cases of labourers returning from Surat testing positive — Bhadrak (3), Kendrapora (5), Balasore (2), Mayubhanj (4) and Jagatsinghpur (4).
Similar concerns have been raised in Palamu district in Jharkhand, where two positive cases have turned up among those who returned from Chhattisgarh. Principal Health Secretary, Nitin Kulkarni, accused Chhattisgarh of sending the labourers into Jharkhand before their test results came. Chief Secretary Sukhdev Singh said, “We are lucky we intercepted the labourers before they could mix with a crowd.”
The cases are a jolt to the Centre’s calculation that Covid-19 would mimick the 2009 H1N1 pandemic in India, where smaller towns with low population densities reported only a few cases.
The first two positive cases in Ganjam had been screened at Surat, which seemed to have been ineffectual as they were asymptomatic at the time. One of the two, a 17-year-old, said he shared a room with five roommates in Surat and “sometimes” visited a nearby market. He left Surat on April 27 and reached Ganjam three days later, travelling with 56 others, including three of his roommates, on a special bus. Put in a government quarantine, he tested positive on May 2. The second case in Ganjam was of a 22-year-old who stayed alone in Surat, “often went outside to have food”, and travelled back on the same bus. Ganjam saw two more cases, on May 4 and 5, both 18-year-olds who had returned from Surat.
A day later, on May 6, the number of positive cases among those returning from Surat jumped to 17, seeing a further increase by 26 on May 7.
Over May 5 and 6, Mayurbhanj and Jagatsinghpur saw four positive cases each traced to Surat. On May 7, Bhadrak, which had 11 active cases then, saw three cases linked to Surat, while the next day, Kendrapa, with eight cases, saw seven. Balasore reported two positive cases among the migrant workers who came back from Surat on May 7. The fresh cases mean Jagatsinghpur and Mayurbhanj are now in orange zone.
The migrant labourer who died on Friday had been put up at a quarantine centre in Polasara block since Tuesday, after he arrived from Surat on a train.
On Friday, Odisha extended its mandatory quarantine for Covid-19 suspect cases, including those coming from outside, to 28 days, including 21 days of institutional quarantine and seven days at home.
In Jharkhand, two of the five cases in Palamu district are construction labourers who returned from Chhattisgarh in the last week of April. Jharkhand has claimed that they spent almost a month in quarantine shelters set up by the Chhattisgarh government and were symptomatic as well as had tested positive on April 30 but yet managed to reach Patan in Jharkhand from Koriya in Chhattisgarh, 260 km away.
According to Chhattisgarh officials, the two had been working in Nashik and Nagpur and were first stopped at a shelter in Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh, on April 1, and then, 15 days later, shifted with around 100 others to Koriya. The district officials at the Koriya shelter collected their samples on April 27. The Indian Express went through reports by AIIMS-Raipur, the nodal testing centre, dated April 30, showing both as positive and symptomatic.
A government official in Raipur said, “By the time we found out that they were positive, we were told they had already left the camp to go home. The authorities concerned were informed.” The Jharkhand authorities confirmed that they were alerted by Chhattisgarh on April 30, hours after they had entered the state, after which they started a frantic search for the two.
Palamu Civil Suregon John F Kennedy said: “They were screened at Salatwa, 10 km from the Chhattisgarh border, but since they were asymptomatic and we had no information on the two being positive, they were allowed to go. Later when we got to know, we swung into action.”
A source claimed, “The Chhattisgarh government told us they had conducted a rapid test, and not found any signs of a disease. They had taken a swab too, but the two were moved before the results came in.”
Palamu Deputy Commissioner Santanu Kumar Agrahari said they intercepted the two between Manatu and Patan, travelling in autorickshaws. “We immediately sent around 28 people to a Covid care centre. Five of them tested positive on May 7. We have informed the Chhattisgarh government and told them to follow containment strategies.”
Koriya Collector Doman Singh, however, claimed the men had tested positive in Jharkhand and never stayed at a shelter there. “Several people crossed Chhattisgarh while going to Jharkhand, they might have also gone like that,” he said.
Ambikapur Divisional Commissioner Emill Lakda, under whose jurisdiction Koriya falls, said, “If it is found that these two men were indeed positive, we will quarantine all the people, healthworkers and otherwise, and get them tested. As of now, I don’t have much information.”
Earlier, on April 28, Chhattisgarh had reported a positive case among a migrant worker at a camp in Surajpur district who had returned from Jharkhand, leading to massive quarantining in Rajnandgaon, Koriya, Jashpur and Raigarh districts.
A senior official in Raipur said, “Migrant workers in various districts are creating law and order situation as they want to go home. So, most of them are being allowed to go once their quarantine period is over.”
He also claimed, “Districts, in order to maintain themselves as green, are facilitating the process of workers going home, as they don’t want cases in their districts.”
In a special leave petition before the Supreme Court Friday, the Centre outlined the precautionary measures being adopted for migrant travel. Staying the Orissa High Court order, the Court said, “We are of the view that the order of the Government of India dated 29.04.2020 provides ample protection. It appears that before the High Court, the order of the Government of India dated 29.04.2020 and the guidelines were neither brought into… notice nor were under challenge.”
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