How authorities missed Delhi's first COVID-19 case at the airport
New Delhi: Now that Delhi's first COVID-19 positive patient is in recovery and has been restricted to home-quarantine, the 45-year-old businessman from Mayur Vihar has revealed that he was not screened at the Indira Gandhi International Airport on February 25, when he arrived from Europe. This information comes amid official government data that showed India is not conducting as many tests for the novel Coronavirus as many other affected countries.
However, what is alarming about Rohit Dutta's case is that by the time he had landed in India, he had spent four days in Italy, specifically in Milan and adjoining areas of Venice for business and yet airport authorities had failed to test him or screen him at the airport. In fact, Dutta said that at the time the virus had not spread to
Austria, from where he had flown in, and hence authorities did not feel the need to test. But days prior to his departure from Vienna, he had spent four days in Italy.
Curiously, officials in India have maintained that they started screening international passengers arriving from sensitive countries from January 17. Interestingly, by February 25, Europe had already reported its first COVID-19 death in France and on February 23, Italy had already seen a massive spike in COVID-19 cases — from less than five to more than 150 in less than 24 hours.
As per the timeline of the virus' spread, the first death in Europe was reported from France on February 14, following which Italy saw an unexpected spike in cases on February 23 when 10 towns were put under lockdown. Despite this, the first press release announcing the screening of passengers from Italy from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare was issued on February 26, a day after Dutta entered India.
Moreover, the advisories issued before February 26 had directed screening of passengers from non-European countries such as China, Singapore, Iran and others.
Speaking to Millennium Post, Dutta said, "I was not screened at the airport when I landed on the 25th but that night, I started feeling feverish and visited my doctor the next day." He said that his doctor had diagnosed a mild throat infection and prescribed medicines for three days. "But the symptoms came back on the night of 28th when I was again running a temperature. So, I went back to the doctor and insisted on a COVID-19 test, following which I was admitted to RML Hospital on February 29," he said. Dutta was confirmed as Delhi's first COVID-19 positive case on March 1 and immediately moved into the isolation ward at Safdarjung Hospital.
However, between February 25 and 29, Dutta said he had visited his office for an hour and obviously had contact with his family. "But everyone I came in contact with was tested for the virus and all of them were negative," he said, adding that the Central government must be lauded for its work on creating commendable isolation wards. He said that the isolation wards were top-notch and nothing short of comfortable, adding, "I must say that I'm very proud of the government for how they are dealing with this."
But as the government faces questions over whether it is truly prepared to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, what remains true is that unless Dutta had insisted on the test, he was not screened by authorities and nor was he tested. If immigration authorities had flipped through a few pages of his passport, they could have spotted his travel history to Italy.