Kolkata: West Bengal home secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay, his wife Sonali Chakravarti Banerjee and at least 10 other staff members were sent on home quarantine after it was found that the mother (a joint secretary rank officer) of the state's first identified novel coronavirus carrier met the top bureaucrat on Monday at his office, an incident that has created a stir at the state secretariat, Nabanna.
The COVID-19 patient's mother is posted in the secretariat building, which also houses the office of chief minister Mamata Banerjee. On March 15, the infected person returned to India from the United kingdom with coronavirus symptoms. He was advised to get himself admitted to hospital but reportedly ignored this and went home, coming in direct contact with his parents, driver, domestic helps and neighbours.
On March 16, his mother got anxious and went to meet the home secretary at Nabanna. She used the lift and went to Bandyopadhyay's 13th floor office.
“During her entire movement from the main gate to the 13th floor, she came in contact with more than 10 people. Among them were the policemen at the main entrance and corridor, the liftman, other officers present inside the lift, policemen in front of Bandyopadhyay’s chamber and a pantry worker who served tea to the woman,” state secretariat sources said.
The patient tested positive for COVID-19 on March 17, according to a bulletin issued by the state health directorate.
The report prompted panic among the staff at the state secretariat because Mamata Banerjee was also present in her chamber when the patient's mother met the home secretary.
The entire building was sanitised on Tuesday with special attention on areas through which the woman had passed to meet Alapan Bandyopadhyay. The home secretary's office was sealed.
Several officials said the incident displayed callousness on the part of the patient and his parents as they put others at risk.
A senior bureaucrat said, “All of them including, Alapan Bandyopadhyay and his wife Sonali Chakravarti Banerjee, were sent for home quarantine. At least 20 staff members were advised to stay at home. We are concerned that after meeting the woman, the home secretary was standing close to the chief minister during a press conference on Monday (March 16). The woman indirectly exposed the journalists and our CM to the risk as well.”
Authorities are trying to trace the other passengers on the flight with the coronavirus carrier.
The West Bengal director of health services said in a statement: “As on March 17, 2020 total 7,4978 travellers/persons have been screened at Kolkata and Bagdogra Airport and 2,80,362 persons have been screened at seven land border check points along Nepal and Bangladesh. Also 3,989 crew members of ships have been screened in three ports. Till date, 12,244 travellers from COVID-19 affected countries have been identified and placed under surveillance. For 248 of them the surveillance period is over. Eighteen are admitted in isolation facility on date. Remaining 11,978 are under home surveillance.”
It further reads, “Till date 70 samples have been sent to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) Pune, ICMR-NICED, Kolkata and IPGMER, Kolkata for test of COVID-19. Results of 69 samples are negative. One male aged 18 years who had returned from UK on 15th March has tested positive today. He is kept in isolation.”