Some troubling questions about government handling of COVID-19 suspects

Some troubling questions about government handling of COVID-19 suspects
Health Minister K K Shailaja

Health Minister K K Shailaja, who had till now brushed aside any criticism of the Health Department's handling of COVID-19 like they were an unwanted botheration, struck a conciliatory note in the Assembly on Friday. She even apologised to opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala for raising her voice against him the other day in the Assembly.

The minister softened her stand after opposition members raised a slew of serious and even trivial issues related to COVID-19 management in Kerala. Some minor issues, the minister responded to during a discussion on COVID-19 in the Assembly on Friday. But a handful of grave charges were left unanswered.

Irresponsible Italy returnees

The first major charge related to the arrival of the family of three from Italy, and this was raised by Muslim League leader and deputy opposition leader Dr M K Muneer. The health minister had said the Centre's advisory on passengers from high-risk countries other than China, including Italy, had come only on March 1. “She said that since this family had landed on February 29, it was not possible to scrutinise them properly,” Muneer said.

But he said the advisory, “Consolidated Travel Advisory in view of COVID-19', was issued on February 26. “We would like to know why the minister said she came into possession of the advisory only on March 1,” Muneer said.

Shailaja said though the advisory was issued on February 26, the order making universal surveillance at airports and the filling of forms by travellers mandatory was issued only on March 4. Like earlier, she further insisted that it was not possible for state authorities to conduct checks inside airports. “The airports are under the absolute control of the Centre,” the minister said.

Nonetheless, the minister said that ever since Italy was designated high-risk, flights had started announcing the need to fill forms by those returning from Italy. “A co-passenger of the Italy-returned family had come on record saying that two such announcements were made in the flight. Even then they did not fill the form or report to the help desk,” the minister said.

Both Chennithala and Muneer said the government was trying to encourage a kind of xenophobia by demonising the family from Italy. “I was not trying to vilify them. I just told what they had done, and how reluctant they were to pass on information. I felt the public should know this,” the health minister said.

Some troubling questions about government handling of COVID-19 suspects
Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala

A responsible Italy returnee

If the Pathanamthitta family was irresponsible, the opposition wanted to know how the government had handled another Italy-returnee who behaved in the most responsible manner. This issue was raised by both Muneer and Congress legislator K Sabarinathan.

This was about a Thiruvananthapuram native who had travelled to Italy and had landed in Thiruvananthapuram early morning on March 11.

He was returning from Germany using a connecting flight from Doha. But the man told airport authorities that he had been to Italy, too. The man is said to have landed in Thiruvananthapuram early morning on March 11.


Since he did not have any symptoms, the man was allowed to go home but was advised to quarantine himself inside his house in Vellanad. Later, when he felt the first chills of fever he called the local ward member and was taken to the taluk hospital. From there he was taken in an ambulance to the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College.

There, his throat swab was taken and then was asked to go back home. But shockingly, without an ambulance. He used an auto, and along the way, stopped to drink juice from a wayside shop. A bit later, the test done at the Medical College showed he was positive and then there was a desperate rush to trace the person. Fortunately, he had shut himself inside his home. Now, he has been shifted to the Medical College and his aged father to the General Hospital.

The minister did not utter a word about the shoddy manner in which a potentially infected person, who had voluntarily revealed he was from Italy, was allowed to move about freely.

Cruise ship from Italy


Th third serious charge was the arrival of a large cruise ship from Italy that had anchored in Kochi harbour early this month. Muneer said 350-odd tourists were allowed to disembark without any screening and they went on a shopping spree in the heart of the city. “Why is no one talking about the ship,” Muneer asked.

Shailaja did not respond. She only appealed to the opposition not to fall into “fault-finding” mode.

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