‘Search’ for missing NRIs in Punjab who travelled with ‘coronavirus’

Coronavirus (File Photo: IANS)

Chandigarh  Elderly Baldev Singh is no more, dollar rich Punjabs first coronavirus casualty.

But the virus that travelled with him from Germany and Italy survives and now the esearch’ for people who came in contact with him is virtually like looking for a needle in a haystack.

So far approximately 70 per cent of state’s COVID-19 positive cases have been traced to esuper spreader’ Baldev Singh, a resident of Banga town in Nawanshahr district who died on March 18 owing to a heart attack but was diagnosed to be coronavirus positive after his death.

Authorities suspect the count could go much higher as the egranthi’, who had the mass following in villages in the Doaba region, attended the spiritually significant Hola Mohalla celebrations, which coincides with the Holi festival where tens of thousands of devotees converge every year in the Sikh holy town Anandpur Sahib, located some 85 km from Chandigarh, between March 8 and 10.

During his stay in Anandpur Sahib, he mingled freely with the people despite advisory on landing in Delhi’s IGI Airport on March 7 for isolation at home.

Ten days after his death, Baldev Singh is suspected to have infected 27 people, comprising 14 family members.

Apprehending major outbreak, the state government has been closely monitoring through contact tracing Baldev Singh’s acquaintance mainly in Nawanshahr, renamed Shahid Bhagat Singh Nagar, Hoshiarpur and Jalandhar districts, the hotbed of NRIs.

Contact tracing means finding out each individual who came in contact with a patient and then isolate them at their homes to prevent the further spread of infection.

Now, local health authorities have self quarantined around 30,000 residents that were linked to the esuper spreader’.

Health Minister Balbir Sidhu told IANS that 25-30 villages in Nawanshahr, Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur from where the patients suspected to be infected by Baldev Singh were sealed to prevent the further spread of the virus.

“The social isolation in infected villages through sealing at micro-level and further imposition of 21-day statewide curfew will help to narrow detecting the asymptomatic patients as well as to halt the spread of the microbe,” he said.

Health officials are monitoring nearly 550 patients who came or believed to have come into contact with Baldev Singh by expanding random checks.

Earlier, the focus was only those who have come from affected areas overseas or have been in contact with the positive cases.

But Baldev Singh is not an isolated case in the state where almost 75 per cent of the non-resident Indians (NRIs) have their plush residential properties and landholdings especially in the Doaba region (the prosperous area between the Sutlej and Beas rivers) comprising the districts of Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahr and Kapurthala.

For a majority of NRIs visiting their natives places is the best way to escape the harsh winters of Europe, the US and Canada from November onwards.

This season too was no exception, many of them landed in hordes, may be to escape coronavirus epidemic prevailing there, with a little attention to complying with the home quarantine advisory.

As per re-assessment carried out by the health authorities, 55,669 international passengers came to Punjab from January 30 onwards.

Earlier, the government said no less than whopping 90,000 landed in the state in March alone.

Official sources told IANS Jalandhar district now tops the list with foreign arrivals with 13,723 out of the total 55,669. Nawanshahr, the hometown of the deceased coronavirus patient, has received 1,605 foreign travellers.

Currently, 30,000 of them are placed in self isolation in the state.

Acting on the alert of Union Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, Punjab has started a special drive to trace its 1,330 emissing’ foreign travellers.

Police officials said these NRIs were not found as their addresses on their travel declarations did not match with the actual addresses.

“We believe that a majority of them who carry the infection have reported to some hospital by now or they are about to report,” said a police official.

Taking the coronavirus outbreak “seriously”, the government on Saturday again asked the NRIs and foreign travellers who came in India after January 30 to furnish their details on helpline number 112 immediately.

Issuing a warning, the government said if any NRI or foreign traveller deliberately concealed this information, authorities may contemplate stern action against him or her.

Widening the testing, Medical Education and Research Principal Secretary D.K. Tiwari said the state has doubled the testing capacity at government medical colleges in Patiala and Amritsar.

As per the government’s latest medical bulletin, no new confirmed case of Covid-19 was reported in the state on Saturday, a sigh of relief for authorities. The number of confirmed cases was 38 with the report of 264 suspected patients is still awaited.

Currently, the spread of the disease is limited to six out of 22 districts.

Nawanshahr saw the highest number of 19 coronavirus patients, followed by Mohali and Hoshiarpur districts with six each, Jalandhar five and one each in Amritsar and Ludhiana districts.

The silver lining is that the state’s first case — of an NRI belonging to Hoshiarpur — was discharged after being cured on Saturday.