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Sunday, May 31, 2020

22 of family among 25 cases, Islampur fights rumours, discrimination

Twenty-five people, including 22 of a family, have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in this dusty town near the Karnataka border, after four of the family returned from a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Updated: March 31, 2020 11:34:16 am
From Ground Zero: A complete lockdown in Uran, Islampur in Sangli district of Maharashtra, where 25 coronavirus cases have been reported. Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty

Dr Saket Patil, the taluka health officer, has two sheets of paper in front of him: one has a family tree drawn on it, the other is a map of Uran Islampur.

Twenty-five people, including 22 of a family, have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in this dusty town near the Karnataka border, after four of the family returned from a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Now, Islampur is fighting several battles? against coronavirus, rumours, discrimination, and poor medical facilities.

With one of India’s largest cluster transmissions, Islampur, with a population of about 80,000, has been under total lockdown since March 23, when the first case was detected. Its roads deserted, iron barricades sealing each entry point, even pharmacies and clinics shut, the only glimpses of habitation are the faces peeking out from windows.

The four pilgrims had boarded an international flight to New Delhi, and then a domestic flight to Mumbai on March 13. According to Dr Saket Patil, taluka health officer, after landing at Mumbai airport, the four family members ate at a Colaba restaurant and then took a taxi to Islampur, 340 km away. Back home, none of them, including a 65-year-old, observed home quarantine. The 65-year-old visited a bank twice, sat at a bangle shop on the ground floor of his two-storey house daily, and strolled in Gandhi Chowk that sees a footfall of about 3,000 every morning.

With one of India’s largest cluster transmissions, Islampur, with a population of about 80,000, has been under total lockdown since March 23, when the first case was detected. Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty

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On March 19, he developed a cough and cold and visited the sub-district hospital. By March 22, all four had been admitted in Miraj Medical College. The next day, their nasal swabs tested positive. A vacant girls’ hostel was converted into a quarantine centre and the family members were immediately shifted there. Five more family members tested positive by March 24; another two on March 25; and 12 on March 26.

Besides the 22 family members and three others in their immediate neighbourhood in Gandhi Chowk area, another 489 are suspected to have been infected.

“Everybody retreated indoors that day. The town came under a lockdown,” said former corporator Kapil Oswal.

The residents of 1,100 houses, within a 700 metre radius of the family’s house, are not allowed to step out. Police and volunteers deliver milk and vegetables at their doors.

“More than the virus itself, it is the fear that is killing us. My shop has been closed since they tested positive,” said neighbour Shahjahan Shikalgar. The family had distributed dates from Saudi to several people. All those people have been quarantined.

The residents of 1,100 houses, within a 700 metre radius of the family’s house, are not allowed to step out. Police and volunteers deliver milk and vegetables at their doors. Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty

At least 77 houses, whose residents had interacted with the family, have a red-coloured notice pasted outside, declaring they are in home quarantine.

“Our village name has been spoilt because of them. People are angry here. The government is not providing any ration or facility,” said Yusuf Maner, a resident.

The 65-year-old pilgrim’s 31-year-old son, who has also tested positive, said they are afraid to return home. “There is so much hatred against our family. I tried my best to get my father tested immediately when he showed symptoms. Initially, he was asked to return home by a government hospital,” he said. “We never wanted this to happen in Islampur. I wish my parents were stopped at Delhi airport and quarantined,” he said.

Health workers are wary of approaching the area to conduct the daily check on quarantined patients and contact tracing. An ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) worker said she had not been given any mask or gloves. “My family is scared, neighbours complain that I may get the infection,” she said.

In the last few days, residents purchased masks and gloves for health workers. Each day, an ASHA worker visits 25-30 houses in Islampur looking for COVID-19 symptoms.

A home with a quarantine sticker outside the door warning residents not to enter and those inside not to step out. Express Photo by Amit Chakravartyc

Dr Bhupal Shrirang Girigosavi, district health officer, said protective gear has been procured for all health workers. “We are on the coronavirus map because we identified so many cases even before they developed symptoms. We are aggressively fighting this infection,” he said.

After Mumbai and Pune, Islampur has the maximum cases in Maharashtra. District officials admitted that the morale of health workers is low. At the quarantine centre, at the edge of the village, no sanitation worker was ready to clean the rooms.

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“We had to counsel and convince them,” said Dr Swati Patil, medical officer.

There are also very few tests being carried out each day. At least 10 other members of the family are waiting for a nasal swab test.

The family’s two domestic helps have also tested positive. One of them worked in seven other houses. The residents of those houses are under home quarantine too.

The government plans to set up a laboratory at the Miraj Medical College to start testing samples. Meanwhile, panic has triggered rumours. On Sunday, police registered an FIR against a resident for spreading rumours.

Empty streets in Uran Islampur where the police is enforcing a complete lockdown. Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty

Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?

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