Bihar has been facing a fairly new kind of problem in tackling the coronavirus pandemic that has emerged as a major threat to the humanity, claiming over 38,000 lives across the world so far.
Even though the government has initiated a slew of measures, besides enforcing the 21-day nationwide lockdown, suspects of the infection have been running away from hospitals at regular intervals, raising the fear of transmitting the virus in the community.
In the past one fortnight, nine suspects — one of whom later tested positive — have surreptitiously fled from various hospitals in Patna, Bhagalpur, Araria, Gopalganj and Darbhanga.
Officials and social scientists say the suspects have been running away from quarantine facilities due to social stigma and the isolation process that is ought to be boring for the inmates.
“The social stigma associated with tuberculosis and leprosy is yet to vanish, and the same seems to be the case with coronavirus. People don’t want to be identified as one of the infected and hence are running away from the hospitals,” said Sachindra Narayan, former professor at Patna’s AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies.
“Lack of basic medical facilities and poor arrangements at the isolation centres could be another reason behind this,” he added.
With the situation turning graver by day, authorities have taken the issue of quarantine violation on a serious note. On March 28, police had registered the first FIR in this connection in Darbhanga district against a suspect.
Darbhanga Superintendent of Police Babu Ram, accompanied by a team of doctors, had visited Motipur village in the district to conduct surprise inspection of a youth put under home quarantine. However, he was found missing from his home. Subsequently, the police had ordered registration of an FIR against him.
Six more people were found not following the quarantine guidelines properly, but were let them off with a stern warning.
These are not the isolated cases in the district either. On March 15, a suspected COVID-19 patient had escaped from Darbhanga Medical College and Hospital (DMCH). “The patient escaped when he was being taken to the isolation ward,” said the hospital’s medical superintendent Dr Rajeev Ranjan.
Since then, several such cases have come to the fore. On March 19, a teenager, who had tested positive, fled from Patna’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The youth, a resident of Phulwarisharif locality in Patna, was hospitalised right after he had flown back from Stockholm. He was later caught and admitted to Nalanda Medical College and Hospital (NMCH), Patna.
On March 25, another suspect had fled from the Sadar hospital in Araria district. The escapee, a resident of Araria’s Tarabadi area, was hospitalised on the basis of his symptoms and was being shifted to the DMCH for testing when he fled. Subsequently, the district magistrate withheld the salary of the hospital superintendent and also served him a show-cause notice.
On March 27, two more COVID-19 suspects had ran away from the Sadar hospital in Gopalganj. Both of them had returned from abroad and were taken to the hospital for screening. They were later caught by the police.
On the same day, two other suspects ran away from Jawahar Lal Nehru Medical College and Hospital (JLNMCH), Bhagalpur. They are yet to be traced.
“They were being taken for blood sample collection when they escaped from the hospital. We have reported the matter to the local civil surgeon and the district administration,” said the hospital’s deputy superintendent Dr Ashim Kumar Das.
The very next day, another COVID-19 suspect escaped from an isolation ward in Banka district while another suspect fled from Patna. The one in Patna, said health officials, had attended a wedding in Phulwarishari locality of the district and was under the surveillance of the officials when he fled.
He was caught the next day from Patna’s Barh block. “The escape of suspects from hospitals is very dangerous and can complicate the situation. Police need to be extra alert,” said Patna civil surgeon Dr Raj Kishore Chaudhary.
What has alarmed the health experts is the way how one of the patients, Saif Ali, 38, who died on March 21, had infected as many as 10 persons in Bihar. While three of them were from his own family, the remaining seven are staff of the three private hospitals in Munger, Bhagalpur and Patna, where he was admitted before being referred to the AIIMS, Patna where he died.
Ali, a resident of Munger, had recently returned from Qatar, but had concealed his travel history. Currently, 42 persons who had come in contact with him are under quarantine at Patna’s Hotel Ashok.
In view of the seriousness of the situation, Bihar chief secretary Deepak Kumar has ordered to diagnose again the 3,383 persons who had returned from abroad in the past fortnight. Of them, around 653 persons belong to East Champaran, 548 are from Darbhanga, 478 from Saran, 255 from Muzaffarpur and 257 from Siwan districts.
According to a latest report by the health department, the total number of COVID-19 positive cases has climbed to 16 in Bihar.