453 pilgrims who earlier tested negative sent to districts turn out positive for virus

Updated April 09, 2020


Police, health staff's ‘refusal’ to work inside quarantine allowed pilgrims to mix up. — AFP/File
Police, health staff's ‘refusal’ to work inside quarantine allowed pilgrims to mix up. — AFP/File

MULTAN: As many as 453 pilgrims out of 1,160, who were sent to their respective districts on Saturday after being declared ‘negative’ for Covid-19, have tested positive during later diagnosis, it is learnt here.

Sources said the district administration had got thermal screening of all the pilgrims conducted when they reached Multan from Taftan on March 20 and separated those who had symptoms of the infection from others.

The district administration had requested the provincial government, particularly the health department, to provide kits for screening of all the pilgrims so that the infected pilgrims could be separated from the healthy ones.

Finally after repeated requests by the district administration, the screening of all pilgrims was done out of whom 1,160 tested negative.

Sources further added that the deputy commissioner, at various meetings, besides contacting his high-ups and the health secretary, suggested that before sending these pilgrims to their respective districts, they must be tested. However, the district administration was asked to conduct the test of only five per cent of them, which was done and as a result three more pilgrims tested positive.

Police, health staff ‘refusal’ to work inside quarantine allowed pilgrims to mix up

It was also learnt that as per the instructions of high-ups, the district administration arranged buses for the pilgrims and announced sending them to their respective districts on Friday (April 4); however when they were seated on vehicles the district administration got directions to first conduct their tests and then send them to their areas.

Soon the local administration informed the pilgrims they would be sent to their districts only after their tests were conducted again; the pilgrims protested the move by expelling the district staff from the quarantine centre. They also locked the doors from inside and did not allow anyone to enter the centre.

Sources said police deployed outside the centre [allegedly] remained non-cooperative with the district administration and refused to control the situation due to which the army was called and negotiations were held between the administration and pilgrims who were insisting that they should be sent to their areas as they had tested negative and already spent 15 days each in the quarantine centres of Taftan and Multan.

During the negotiations it was decided that the administration would send them to their respective districts after collecting their samples for tests. Finally, as per the promise they were sent to their native areas, while their samples were dispatched to the laboratories for tests.

The provincial government directed the respective districts to make arrangements to keep the pilgrims in quarantine until the results were received.

But now the administration [of districts] was worried as they had no proper arrangements to keep the pilgrims who had been tested positive, while there were also chances that those tested negative might have got infected during travelling.

The district administration suggested that police should be deployed outside each block of the quarantine centre to control the infection from spreading among the pilgrims who were not infected with virus but according to sources police [allegedly] refused to perform duties inside the quarantine centre because of which pilgrims got opportunity to mix up without any care and fear.

Even officials of health department were reluctant to perform their duties inside the quarantine centre, leaving no option for the deputy commissioner to deploy his untrained staff, including the volunteers of civil defence. The administration of Nishtar Hospital also refused to provide doctors and paramedics to serve in the quarantine centre, according to sources.

City Police Officer Muhammad Zubair Dreshak was not available for comment despite several attempts while Vice Chancellor Nishtar Medical University Dr Mustafa Kamal Pasha said: “The hospital is only doing the tests while the quarantine centre is being looked after by the primary and secondary health department. We never refused, rather we were never asked for such help.”

DC Khattak said the pilgrims were not sent to their homes rather quarantined in their respective districts as per policy.

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2020