Srinagar: A village among the mountains of Ladakh has been locked down after two members of a family residing there tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.
The infected persons – a man and his son – from Chuchot village are under observation at a district hospital in Leh, and eight other members of the same family have been quarantined at a different health facility, a doctor said on condition of anonymity.
A 68-year-old-man from the village had returned from Iran on February 27 and developed some of the symptoms of COVID-19 after a few days. “His sample was sent for testing and the report came positive for the coronavirus,” the doctor said.
A few days later, the elderly man’s 28-year-old son presented a high fever and was admitted to a hospital. On March 11, he also tested positive. He had no travel history to worse-off countries, so doctors suspected his illness could have been contracted from his father.
A government official said that after the two tested positive, the health department became “alarmed” and decided to “completely seal” the village on March 8.
“While both patients are stable and reports of other family members are awaited, we are concerned that other people from the village might have come in contact with them,” the official said. He justified the lockdown as “the safest option to prevent any chances of spread of infection.”
“Nobody is allowed to enter or leave Chuchot,” said the doctor.
Chuchot is a small village located 20 km from Leh district headquarters. It has a population of around 2,000.
Authorities of the Ladakh union territory are now testing every resident for signs of COVID-19. Another group of health workers has also been visiting every family to discuss the symptoms of COVID-19.
“These health workers were in the village when we received the report of the second person” testing positive, another doctor said. “We decided to seal the village and task these workers with the job.”
The UT administration has also established a checkpoint outside the village to drop medicines off at, together with other items, according to the needs of the village’s residents.
“We drop the items and inform the health workers on phone, and they come and pick them up,” the doctor said.
Health secretary Rigzin Samphel confirmed they had also “restricted movement” to and from the village.
“We are following the set protocol to restrict the movement of people. These restrictions will continue for 28 days,” he said.
An ambulance also remains on standby at the checkpost to ferry patients to a nearby centre for further checks and treatment. Thus far far, no new cases have been reported from the village.
The failure to flag the case of the 68 year-old-man when he returned from Iran has raised questions about the effectiveness of the procedures the regional administration uses to screen people returning from foreign countries.
Thus far, three people have tested positive for the new coronavirus in Ladakh. All three had recently been on a pilgrimage to Iran, which has reported over 600 deaths attributable to COVID-19.
More than 150 pilgrims who returned from Iran recently are currently under home-quarantine. “Of the 55 samples sent so far for testing, 22 came back negative, three tested positive while reports for remaining samples are awaited,” the second doctor said.
Around 1,200 people from Ladakh region are still stranded in Iran. The region’s administration has urged the Government of India to quarantine all returnees of Ladakh at Delhi itself and stagger their return home.
“Ladakh is a sparsely populated region. Any kind of negligence could prove catastrophic,” said the doctor.