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Since 1st March, 1999
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Virus makes first strike
- Man tests positive for SARS in city

Calcutta, April 26: The first Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) case in Calcutta was confirmed today after a 42-year-old man tested positive for the virus.

The blood report of Amitava Purakayastha of Madhyamgram, who has been isolated in a city hospital, arrived this evening from the Institute of Virology in Pune.

Purakayastha had recently returned from a tour of Southeast Asian countries, including China, which are worst affected by the virus.

Director of heath services Provakar Chatterjee confirmed the case. “Purakayastha arrived in the city on April 18. From the airport, he went straight home. After a few days, he developed acute chest pain (Myocardial Infraction) and was admitted to a local nursing home,” he said.

While in the nursing home, Purakayastha developed fever and began to show symptoms of SARS. “This prompted the nursing home authorities to send him to the Beliaghata Infectious Diseases Hospital,” the health official added.

At the Beliaghata hospital, doctors concluded after a “thorough examination” that Purakayastha was not infected. But his blood samples were sent to Pune for testing. He passed the incubation period for the disease (10-12 days) and was waiting for the report.

Two days ago, Purakayastha again had heart trouble and the Beliaghata hospital authorities offered to shift him either to SSKM or NRS hospital. “But Purakayastha’s family members were reluctant,” the health director said. The patient was then released on “risk bond”.

Purakayastha’s family got him admitted to the AMRI-Apollo Hospital at Dhakuria. His blood report from Pune came today, confirming SARS. The patient has been isolated on the fourth floor of AMRI, where the news has sparked panic.

“We have informed AMRI authorities about the measures to be taken,” Chatterjee said.

The hospital CEO, Jose Verghese, declined to comment. He pointed out that Chatterjee had already spoken on the issue and he had “nothing to say”.

Air-India strike

Air-India and its striking pilots dug in their heels today, signalling a bitter battle ahead over the SARS scare.

The pilots, who have refused to fly till cabin crew who have flown to the Far East in the past 10 days are certified SARS-clear by the airline, met the management and the civil aviation secretary. But the impasse, which led to five cancellations yesterday and one today, continued.

At the end of the day, the airline suspended 12 pilots and sent showcause notices to 20 more. All striking pilots would face disciplinary action, promised spokesperson Jitendra Bhargava. The unfazed pilots said they would take legal recourse.

The Air-India management and civil aviation secretary K. Roy Paul had come to the crucial meeting with a one-line brief for the pilots, represented by Captain Kenneth Khan: take off now or get grounded.

They refused to budge. “Our demand (for the certificate) remains as it was,” said Captain Vikrant Sansare, general secretary of the Indian Pilots’ Guild that is spearheading the strike.

Air-India unveiled a contingency plan under which operations of Boeing 747-400, 747-300 and 747-200 would continue with about 160 executive pilots. However, 50 per cent of Airbus flights would be hit. The airline will operate 22 flights from midnight till 10 pm tomorrow. Several flights have been rescheduled.

The pilots’ guild has sought an appointment with health minister Sushma Swaraj. “If we are satisfied with the health enforcement procedures to prevent SARS infection among the crew, we will consider withdrawal of our demand,” Sansare said

Indian Airlines has decided to shift the scheduled night stops from Singapore to Bangkok from April 28 under pressure from pilots.

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