Covid-19: The remote islands of Andamans aren’t spared, either

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on March 31, 2020

When Jameel Abdul (name changed), a 47-year-old resident of Lucknow, a remote village of Mayabunder, falling under the Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar (A&N) Islands, left last month for Markaz, the Muslim pilgrimage, along with 12 of his friends — first to Visakhapatnam and later to Nizammudin in New Delhi — little did he know that they would bring back the coronavirus from the mainland.

Abdul owns a small stationery shop in Mayabunder. On February 17, he and his friends undertook an eight-hour overnight journey on sea to reach Port Blair. “From there, we travelled via another ship for three days and reached the port of Vizag on February 20. In Vizag, we visited up to five mosques, and stayed for a few days in each mosque to offer prayers,” Abdul told BusinessLine over the phone.

On March 17, the group boarded the Andhra Pradesh Express at 10 pm from Vizag and reached Nizammudin railway station in New Delhi the next day. “We stayed in the Banglewali masjid until March 22 for offering prayers. As uncertainty around our return to the islands grew, we booked an early morning Vistara flight for March 24, which took off at 6.15 am from Delhi, flew via Kolkata and landed in Port Blair at 12 noon,” recalled Abdul. Domestic flights stopped operating from March 26 in India.

In quarantine

“We have been quarantined since then after screening at Port Blair, and tests have confirmed that me and my friends are positive for Covid-19. So we have been admitted at the GB Pant Medical College Hospital. We are doing well,” he added.

At least 13 persons who had returned from Nizammudin, which has now emerged as a coronavirus hotspot due to the suspected presence of foreign pilgrims, have been quarantined in A&N, along with other passengers who had travelled on the same flight with them, government officials confirmed.

Avijit Roy, Deputy Director of Health, A&N Administration, said all the flights that landed in the islands were screened and all the passengers sent into quarantine across 18 hotels in Port Blair. “Up to 2,022 persons are under surveillance, of which 38 have been found symptomatic,” he added.

A&N received its first Covid-19 case on March 26. Two days later, six persons were found positive, which increased to nine by March 30. “Ten including nine pilgrims were found positive on the islands after their return on March 26. Other six island natives who are positive have been hospitalised in Delhi as they could not travel back,” said Roy.

He said that while most passengers had been safely quarantined or admitted in isolation wards, a 54-year-old man who was advised home quarantine infected his 48-year old wife, and broke quarantine rules to meet his relatives. “So we are tracing all the primary and secondary contacts of this person, who was later tested Covid-19 positive along with his wife. He met about 18 members in his building, whom we have quarantined,” he added.

“We are also testing all additional persons that we are doubtful of having been in touch with confirmed cases, even if they are not symptomatic. About 114 tests have been run till date, and we have up to 600 diagnostic kits. We are awaiting the arrival of more test kits as we expand surveillance,” said Roy.

Published on March 31, 2020

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