31/03/2020 3:17 PM IST

Nagpur Stares Down Coronavirus Emergency After 9 Doctors Quarantined

A patient at Nagpur’s Government Medical College hid his medical history and came in contact with over 30 doctors and other medical staff before testing positive for COVID-19.

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A file photo of Thermal screening being conducted on passengers in Nagpur Railway station

NAGPUR, Maharashtra: Nine doctors have been placed under quarantine in Nagpur’s biggest hospital, the Government Medical College, after a patient who was admitted with cerebrovascular complications hid the fact that his cousin, whom he was in contact with, was being treated for COVID-19. The patient himself tested positive for coronavirus later.

Nagpur GMC, established in 1947, is one of the two nodal hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients in Nagpur, and functions as a regional center for the entire Vidarbha region of Maharashtra.

The 44-year-old patient was brought to GMC on Friday after being turned away by a private hospital in the city. A resident doctor at GMC told HuffPost India on condition of anonymity that the patient and his relatives were asked multiple times at the time of admission whether he had come in contact with any COVID-19 patients, as is standard procedure now in government hospitals. However, they denied this. 

“Doctors suspected him on Saturday when he showed signs of cough, cold and fever because cerebrovascular patients usually don’t show such symptoms. When the doctors pressed on, he divulged that his cousin had been admitted to the Indira Gandhi Medical College in Nagpur after being tested positive with coronavirus. At first, everyone present in the ward wanted to thrash him but the doctors present in the ward immediately shifted him to the isolation ward and sent his samples for testing,” said the doctor.

By this time, over 30 employees of GMC, including doctors, nurses and other staff, had come in contact with the patient. On Sunday, the sample results showed that he had tested positive for the highly infectious disease. 

The wife and son of the patient have also tested positive for Coronavirus and have been admitted to the GMC.

The carelessness of one man has exposed the entire medicine department and a full ward to coronavirus

Maharashtra, India’s richest state, has now reported 230 cases of coronavirus, the highest in the country. Nagpur alone has 16 cases.

While GMC has more than 1,000 doctors, there are fears that a rise in the number of cases—as experienced by other countries that are ahead of India in terms of the disease’s trajectory—could soon overwhelm its staff, especially if more people need to be quarantined. The hospital admitted 70 suspected COVID-19 patients just on Monday itself.

More than 780,000 people around the world have tested positive for the virus, which has killed more than 37,000. Scientists have said that the virus follows an exponential growth pattern, which means that with every passing day, it infects more and more people rapidly. 

Doctors, nurses and other medical staff employed by India’s overburdened public healthcare system have been working with their backs against the wall as they try to fight the pandemic. Apart from the shortage of medical gear such as masks and gloves, they are also dealing with stigma from neighbors and relatives, as well as fears about their own safety.

These challenges increase manifold when patients hide their history due to fear or ignorance.

Doctors’ concerns

A resident doctor at GMC Nagpur told HuffPost India on condition of anonymity that for some inexplicable reason, the swabs of the nine doctors have not been collected yet.

Also, all the doctors have been quarantined in a GMC students’ hostel, where there are no separate bathrooms for them—as is advisable for people under quarantine.

“This increases the risk because they could end up infecting others who will use those combined toilets and bathrooms in the hostel,” said another resident doctor.

Dr. Sajal Mitra, dean of GMC, and deputy superintendent Dr. Namita Korwate did not respond to calls from HuffPost India

It is not clear yet whether the other medical staff who came in contact with the patient have been put under quarantine yet.

A doctor who works in GMC said that the hospital had asked the nurses and some other medical staff to observe home quarantine. But this is far from enough, he said.

“What about those people in the private hospital (where the patient first went) and drivers and health workers in the ambulance in which he was brought to the GMC? The carelessness of this one man has exposed the entire medicine department and a full ward to coronavirus. Now, doctors from other departments will have to be pulled out to fill up for the quarantined staff,” he rued.