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Dash to smoke out virus bride cabbie

Mumbai, April 23: After the bride and the groom, it is the turn of a cabbie to be quarantined for fear of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). But he has to be found first.

The administration is looking for the taxi driver who drove the D’Silvas — Julie, Stanley and Vimla, who are the first three SARS patients in the state — from Ambernath to Pune on April 17.

“We have already launched a massive effort to identify all those who had come in contact with the D’Silvas,” state health minister Digvijay Khanvilkar said. “We can’t take any chances. A search is on for the cab driver.”

Julie caused a health scare by rushing out of a Pune hospital, where she had been quarantined along with her brother and mother, to get married on Monday evening. She returned to the hospital along with her groom — 29-year-old Shailesh Suryavanshi — and the wedding guests, all of who were quarantined.

“It is dangerous for the cab driver to go around ferrying people,” health officials said. He has to be “located, quarantined and tested”, they added.

With Pune residents furious that the wedding was allowed, the administration has launched a massive quarantine effort. About 25 persons, many of them guests at Julie’s wedding in a Pune church, have been isolated and are being tested for the virus. Doctors and staff at the Siddharth Hospital, where the SARS patients are admitted, have not been spared either.

Authorities have fanned out to the D’Silva family’s home in Ambernath and to the Bibvewadi residence in Pune where they stayed with a friend for some time.

Nineteen others who had come in contact with the D’Silvas have tested negative for SARS. The patients themselves are said to be recovering.

But residents of Kumar Colony and Ambernath feel the health authorities are not doing enough.

While the church where the wedding took place has been locked, the guests quarantined and the hospital closed to new patients, some residents of Kumar Colony said they were still waiting to be tested.

“It isn’t enough to merely tell us to stay home. We must be tested so that we can carry on with our daily lives,” Sandeep Gomes, a neighbour of the D’Silvas, said over phone.

Medical staff from the Pune Municipal Corporation said they were “helpless’’ as it was impossible to find the manpower to test hundreds of patients.

Maharashtra is gearing up to tackle SARS cases. Quarantine spaces have been marked at Mumbai airport and government hospitals are getting ready with isolation rooms. The government has also asked the Centre to advise China, Hong Kong and Singapore to restrict the entry of suspected SARS patients into India.

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