Quarantine That Was, Or Was It Not
(All photos and words by Gautam Doshi)
As I landed at C.S. International Airport in Mumbai from Barcelona, Spain (which is currently under lock down) in the wee hours of March 16, 2020, I witnessed the measures taken by the authorities to deal with the ongoing Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. I wrote this short report in order to throw light on these measures and the steps taken.
On March 11, 2020, it was officially announced by the Ministry of Health that ‘all incoming travellers, including Indians, arriving from or having visited China, Italy, Korea, France, Spain & Germany after Feb 15, shall be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days.’
This is a good measure which is followed by authorities all over the world. However, after what happened yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice some inefficiencies in the manner of dealing with, what most would call, an emergency. If unchecked, these could prove to put the people of Mumbai at much higher risk. Here are some points of review that help explain why:
It definitely is a good measure to test all incoming international (including Indians) travellers. It’s also great that forms were needed to be filled out and submitted on two occasions: one to the health professionals checking our temperatures (before immigration) and one to the immigration officers.
Travellers from the listed countries above were told to stay back and wait before entering immigration. I was traveling back from Barcelona, Spain, through Qatar Airways via a layover in Doha, Qatar. We were grouped according to flights. We were told that we would be taken to a reopened Seven Hills Hospital (around 2-3km from T2) and tested and be monitored/quarantined for 24 hours. Upon the test results and how people felt, they would let us go home on a self-imposed 14-day quarantine or remain with them and be given further directions, if tested positive/felt otherwise.
While going through Immigration, we were told to go through specific booths. Although, they didn’t tell other travellers to NOT go there. Thus, those traveling from relatively safer destinations were mixed with those traveling from the list of countries above, and is the virus is highly contagious, I personally thought that this could be avoided – for the safety of the former.
It took us approx. 2 hours from when we landed to get outside (after collecting our bags, etc.) on P4, where a bus would take us to the hospital. There was only 1 bus functioning and there was an argument between the previous group of passengers (similar to us) and the authorities – as they were trying to put everyone on the bus. For obvious reasons, being in crowds isn’t recommended and it is not safe for those coming flying from the listed/reported countries to be grouped together due to the nature of the disease. As a result, some of us waited for the bus to drop the boarded passengers and come back to fetch us. We waited for around 25-30 minutes.
On arriving at the hospital, we were taken to the ward on the 8th floor. 1 ward consisted of around 35 people. We were more than a meter or so from each other, on an average. All we wanted was just to know what was going on and what is the agenda for the next 24 hours.
There was only 1 MCGM doctor present, who didn’t take rounds. She was assisted by the staff members (non-doctors/nurses). Everyone, including the staff, was confused as to what really was happening and when the tests would be carried out, or if the travellers were going to be tested at all. The doctor had no idea as well and she said that it all depends on orders from the higher authority. She advised everyone to wait. So we did. Everyone was free of symptoms, but since there was only one doctor present, I have no idea how those who don’t feel well were/would be treated.