SRINAGAR: The family of J&K’s first Covid-19 casualty, a 65-year-old preacher, has contested claims by health officials that the deceased may have put hundreds of people at risk by attending two religious gatherings last week and concealing his travel history, including travelling to Jammu by train and returning by air within the past fortnight. Four persons he was in contact with have already tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
“It is unfortunate that we are being victimised on the premise that we hid my father’s travel history, which is an absolutely baseless allegation,” the man’s son told reporters in Srinagar. “Let me be very clear, my father had no international travel. Also, contrary to allegations that he ran away from the hospital he was referred to, my father was actually advised home quarantine because he had no recent history of travel abroad.”
After the businessman and preacher from Sopore died on Thursday, health officials drew up a 400-plus list of primary contacts with whom the deceased had interacted closely in the days preceding his death.
National Health Mission director Bhupinder Kumar appealed to everyone who might have come in contact with the preacher to volunteer for testing. “By not coming forward, you are risking the lives of your loved ones before that of strangers,” he said.
The preacher, a member of the Tablighi Jamaat, had presided over large religious gatherings at Hajin in Bandipora and Sopore in north Kashmir between March 16 and 20. He apparently hugged scores of his followers, including the four men who have since tested positive. He was diagnosed with Covid-19 on Sunday, two days after the last religious event he attended.
Before March 16, the preacher was in Jammu for several days. He had travelled there by train and visited several mosques. On March 16, he took a GoAir flight to Srinagar and spent a few hours in his residence at Hyderpora before proceeding to his ancestral place in Sopore.
Sources said the preacher first visited Jhelum Valley Medical College and Hospital at Bemina in Srinagar on Saturday after having difficulty breathing. A preliminary screening revealed symptoms of Covid-19, but he allegedly fled the hospital on being referred to SKIMS Medical College in Soura, which is the nodal centre for coronavirus cases in J & K.
On Sunday, the preacher visited SMHS Hospital along with some relatives who allegedly argued with the doctors there when they said that the patient must be immediately quarantined, the sources said.
He was subsequently taken back to the Soura institute, by which time he had been through multiple wards across two hospitals.
“The deceased put many at risk by fleeing the hospital in the first place. Our doctors had referred him to SKIMS because they suspected he had contracted Covid-19,” the superintendent of Jhelum Medical College and Hospital said.
The health department is trying to trace all primary and secondary contacts of the deceased. Every member of the health care staff he came in contact with at the three hospitals he visited has been quarantined.
Doctors suspect the preacher was infected when he was part of an international religious congregation of the Tablighi Jamaat in New Delhi. The event was attended by delegates from Malaysia and Indonesia.