The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cry to dump George in sickbay

New Delhi, April 22: After boycotting George Fernandes, the Opposition now wants him isolated.

The reason is not political — like the Tehelka imbroglio earlier — it is SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

The Opposition in the Lok Sabha today urged health minister Sushma Swaraj to quarantine the defence minister for a fortnight on his return from China.

Swaraj, however, told the concerned Opposition members that a mandatory health check should do.

Priya Ranjan Das Munshi of the Congress said he had suggested to Swaraj, at a meeting of the Lok Sabha business advisory committee today, that Fernandes be kept in isolation for at least 15 days as he would be coming from SARS-afflicted China.

The defence minister, on an eight-day trip, should not be allowed to head for Parliament, which is in session till May 9, he said.

Swaraj assured Fernandes would undergo the mandatory health screening.

The MPs said the prospect scared them because Fernandes alone was not the only “risk factor”, several others on his team could be exposed to the virus.

Among others, the team comprises defence secretary Subir Dutta, army vice-chief Lt General Shantanu Chowdhury, secretary, defence production, N.S. Sisodia, additional secretary Pratyush Sinha and an officer each from the navy and the air force.

Later, Swaraj told the press that Fernandes had taken a commercial flight that was not grounded in Beijing. The aircraft, however, was hosed with disinfectants after it landed in Delhi. The plane will be fumigated again when it returns with the team.

Asked why Fernandes did not cancel his trip, Swaraj said China could not be “isolated diplomatically”. His visit is also meant to put in place an agenda for the Prime Minister’s trip later this year.

SARS alone figured in the Lok Sabha during zero hour today when Ramji Lal Suman of the Samajwadi Party asked why the Centre had earlier said there were no virus cases when three were identified in Pune yesterday and, before that, one each in Delhi and Goa.

Swaraj pacified the members, saying she had convened a meeting of all state health secretaries on Thursday to evolve a coordinated approach against SARS.

Later, she told reporters the meeting would also discuss the likelihood of screening migrants entering from Nepal and Bangladesh.

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