150 quarantined in Leh

Published : June 12, 2020 11:49 IST

At an isolation centre in a hospital in Leh district of Ladakh, a teacher conducts online classes on May 12. Photo: PTI

The “who is who” of Leh society—members of the political class, police officials, the media and medical fraternity—was put under home quarantine after close to 300 people attended the last rites of three-time parliamentarian Phunsog Namgyal.

The 83-year-old former Union Deputy Minister (1988-89) had travelled from Delhi the previous week and breathed his last on June 1. His COVID test results came back positive the next day. By then hundreds of people had come in contact with the family and were feared to have been infected. Namgyal's daughters, who were apparently taking care of him, also tested positive and were hospitalised.

“So far 150 people have been traced and isolated. Those who came in direct contact with the body or the family will be tested,” said an official.

Ladakh has a unique tradition of phaspun, where a group of five-six families, usually close relatives, are assigned to take care of each other in times of exigencies like birth, marriage or death.

Frontline spoke to a member of the phaspun who had handled Namgyal's body and is currently under home quarantine. “There were huge lapses right from Delhi to Leh and till the very end. None of the SoPs [standard operating procedures] seem to have been followed. How did the airlines allow him to fly from Delhi, which is a red zone? Was he not screened? Nobody knew that he was infected when he came here. It was incredible negligence on the part of the Union Territory administration. Despite the lockdown, huge crowds were allowed to gather at his residence. Those responsible must be taken to task,” he said.

Under fire, the District Magistrate who is also Chairman of the District Disaster Management Authority, Sachin Kumar Vaishya. instituted two committees to inquire into lapses in protocols and fix accountability. One of the committees constituted of Sonam Chosjor, Assistant Commissioner, Development, Tsewang Gyaltson, Chief Planning Officer, DC Officer and Dr Manzoor-ul-Haq, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Leh.

Namgyal's house and adjoining area were put under containment and contact tracing was being done.

The crew and passengers of the flight on which Namgyal travelled were contacted and asked to quarantine themselves and their samples were collected, according to the District Magistrate's order.

A local journalist, Tsewang Rigzin, told Frontline that while 150 people had been quarantined, none had so far tested positive for the virus. “The issue was politicised and hyped beyond a point,” he said.

He pointed to a more grievous violation of protocol by a senior officer of the Indo-Tibetan Border Force (ITBF), which led to a spike in coronavirus numbers in Leh.

An ITBF Joint Deputy Director's family members travelled from the red zone of Safdarjung in Delhi on May 30 but were allowed to pass through the Leh airport without any screening. They did not comply with the mandatory protocol of home quarantine for 14 days. The family was reportedly seen celebrating a birthday picnic with a crowd in the open and it was alleged that the officer met the Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh as well.

His five-year-old son was the first family member to test positive. Thereafter, the officer, along with six other ITBF officers, also tested positive. The ITBF Officers Mess was declared a containment zone.

Terming it a “glaring example of abuse of power and leaving rules only for the poor and Aam Aadmi,” Rigzin asked why this special leniency was given to the officer concerned.

“Are we giving an impression that rules are meant to be followed only by the common man? Can such officer or influential people get away with it? Will the administration and the Union Territory Administration initiate any action against the officer who should be solely held responsible if more persons test COVID-19 positive from his close contacts?” he asked.

So far, there have been 135 COVID cases in Ladakh, with 80 of them active.

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