Friday, March 5

States scramble to locate hundreds of UK returnees

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Hundreds of people who came back from the United Kingdom (UK) are either missing or not cooperating with health authorities who fear that some of them could be infected by the new, hyper-infectious, mutant strain of SARS-CoV-2 identified in the UK, and still worse, spreading it.

Many of the missing are from Karnataka and Telangana, the two states where maximum number of persons returned from UK since November last week

To be sure, it isn’t clear how many of the close to 3,500 people from Punjab who returned from the UK are missing, although a state government official said most are yet to be traced.

The Union health ministry asked the states to test all persons who returned from the UK in the past one month using the RT-PCR test, the gold standard of tests, to detect Covid-19 virus. From November 25 to midnight, December 23, 2020, about 33,000 passengers disembarked at various Indian airports from UK, said a health ministry statement.

Of them, 2406 people came to Karnataka . The local government is struggling to locate nearly 570 of them who have gone missing, according to Karnataka Medical Education minister Dr K Sudhakar.

The minister added that the state home department and the police have been pressed into service to trace these people, who have also switched off their phones.

Of the 1,614 passengers who came to Bengaluru, 26 tested positive for Covid-19 ; and three of the 26 tested positive for the new UK strain of the virus according to the minister. The three include a 34-year-old woman and her six-year-old daughter.

“I have been promised that within 48 hours all of them will be traced,” Sudhakar said. Of the 570 missing passengers, 204 have given addresses in Bengaluru.

Telangana government officials said that of 1,100 UK returnees to the state, 279 were not traceable. Dr G. Srinivasa Rao, director of public health of the state said his department has forwarded the names and details of the missing returnees to district officials. “Rest have been traced and their swab samples have been taken for testing,” he said.

Punjab has not yet completed tracking of UK returnees. Dr Rajesh Bhaskar, nodal officer for Covid in the state said 1822 Punjab-origin people have landed in Indira Gandhi International Airport at Delhi and 1604 in Guru Ram Dass International Airport at Amritsar since Diwali.

“We are yet to complete the task of tracking all of them. Our district administrations are on toes to track them. There is a large number who are yet to be traced. We are expected to come out with the exact figures by Wednesday evening.”

In Tamil Nadu, where one person has tested positive for new strain of Covid-19, health secretary J Radhakrishnan said that the state has been able to trace almost all 2,200 people who came from the UK  since December 1.

“We have provided details of a few who could not be traced,” he said, without giving the number of missing returnees.

Odisha health officials said 27 UK returnees of the 181 who came back between November 30 and December 21 remain untraceable. Director public health, Dr Niranjan Mishra, said some of them gave only their phone numbers or vague addresses.

Of the 227 people who have returned from the United Kingdom to Uttarakhand in the past one month, about 20 are not traceable, Abhishek Tripathi, chief operational officer for COVID-19 in the state said.

Most of the returnees are from Dehradun and incomplete addresses and mobile numbers are the reason for the missing returnees, according to officials.

However, in some states such as Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, the administration has been able to trace all the returnees and have collected their swab samples for RT-PCR tests.

In Uttar Pradesh, the Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, Alok Kumar said of the 1,655 people who have returned from the UK since December 9, 568 are not traceable.