Failure to check Delta-infected passengers at Karachi airport contributed to city’s health crisis

Published July 31, 2021
The sources said that more than 100,000 international passengers arriving in Karachi had been tested for Covid-19 since May. Of them, more than 250 were found to be coronavirus positive.
— AFP/File
The sources said that more than 100,000 international passengers arriving in Karachi had been tested for Covid-19 since May. Of them, more than 250 were found to be coronavirus positive. — AFP/File

KARACHI: At least 40 international passengers, who were found infected with Covid-19 upon their arrival at the Jinnah International Airport, either escaped/left against medical advice or were “officially released” from government-designated quarantine facilities over the past three months, Dawn has reliably learnt.

Sources said that not a single case of the infected individuals was officially pursued and investigated despite the fact that they were later found to be suffering from Delta variant when their samples were tested for genome sequencing.

The Covid-positive passengers continued to leave quarantine facilities at their whim over the three months and in the latest case a female passenger who had arrived from Iraq ran away with her son from the Covid ward of Sindh Government Hospital in Korangi No. 5, said the sources.

At least 40 passengers have slipped through quarantine over last three months

“The provincial government, which is now struggling to tackle health crisis caused by the dangerous Delta variant could have avoided this situation had it taken notice of lapses in the system at an early stage in May-June when the city reported its first few cases of this dangerous variant among travellers,” said a health official on condition of anonymity.

The first cases of the UK variant were also detected in passengers coming from abroad, he added.

The sources said that more than 100,000 international passengers arriving in Karachi had been tested for Covid-19 since May. Of them, more than 250 were found to be coronavirus positive.

“We later found out that most of the individuals were infected with the Delta variant. There were at least 14 cases in which we had to officially release passengers on the orders of our high-ups while a significantly higher number left quarantine facilities against medical advice,” said another health official.

According to officials, all international passengers go through rapid antigen test (RAT) for Covid-19, which takes 10 minutes. If it is positive, then the passenger is shifted to a government-designated quarantine facility and, in the meantime, his or her sample taken at the airport is sent for the PCR (Polymerase chain reaction).

“We have seen that the PCR test is 100 per cent positive in cases with positive RAT, though there is a chance that some infected individuals couldn’t be detected through the rapid antigen test,” a senior doctor explained when asked about accuracy of the RAT tests.

The genomic test result identifying the specific variant the passenger suffered from took five to six days that gave ample time to a person to use his or her influence and manage to leave the government premises, said the sources.

But, even then, the sources said, the government could have pursued these cases if it wanted as complete details of the passengers were available with the department. The health department high-ups, they said, had been informed about the issue repeatedly but there was no action.

No health official was available for comments on this issue.

“This variant or the coronavirus itself is not home-grown. It’s a state failure that infected individuals arriving in the country are free to roam around. The criminal negligence has led to a situation in Karachi that currently there is no bed even for non-Covid patients in hospitals,” said Dr Abdul Ghafoor Shoro, a representative of the Pakistan Medical Association.

The sorry tale of how coronavirus’ UK variant and now the Indian variant spread in the country pointed to repeated failures at provincial and federal government level in guarding the country’s entry points, he added. “If countries smaller than us could effectively control the pandemic, why couldn’t we do so?” he asked.

First identified in India in March, the Delta variant has killed hundreds of thousands of people in India and has spread to more than 90 countries. It has features that allow it to evade some of the body’s immune system defences.

It is 60 per cent more transmissible than Alpha variant, which was first identified in the UK and was about 50pc more transmissible than the ancestral Wuhan strain. The variant has a more severe form dubbed as Delta Plus that started appearing in global databases in mid-March. 

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2021

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