The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Airport slips up on regimen

Calcutta, April 28: At every step, Calcutta is proving inadequate to cope with the SARS threat.

Authorities at the airport let the Bangladesh Biman flight (BG091), aboard which Jamil Ahmed — suspected to be suffering from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome — arrived in the city, leave yesterday without being fumigated.

The World Health Organisation-prescribed procedure demands that the aircraft be disinfected before allowing passengers, cabin crew and pilots to board the flight if a SARS case is reported.

For an aircraft to be cleared for flying out, the immigration authorities have to give the green signal to air traffic control. In this case, the clearance was sent out without consulting the airport health authority which detected Ahmed as a SARS suspect.

“The immigration authorities permitted Biman to fly back without obtaining the mandatory clearance from the airport health service,” an airport official said.

The flight carried over 100 passengers and the cabin crew. Doctors said: “If Ahmed tests positive for SARS, there is a possibility of these people getting infected.”

Ahmed is now admitted in the Infectious Diseases Hospital here and his blood sample has been sent to the Institute of Virology in Pune.

“We are anxiously waiting for the report,” an airport official said.

Sources said Union health minister Sushma Swaraj has taken “strong exception” and her office spoke to the airport director, J. Kongari, telling him that such carelessness should not be repeated.

The Biman flight arrived at 10.05 am and was at the airport for about an hour before leaving for Dhaka.

“The passengers (who came from Dhaka) disembarked and in course of routine mandatory checks, Jamil Ahmed was found to be a SARS suspect,” the assistant general manager, medical services, Sujit Buxy, said.

The deputy general manager, airport, B.K. Goswami, has written a letter to the foreigner regional registration officer, P.K. Chatterjee, to whom immigration reports, asking him to pin responsibility.

A concerned health ministry has directed the airport authorities to ensure that every passenger, irrespective of standing, arriving from the 20 WHO-listed SARS-affected countries, is subjected to mandatory screening by doctors in the arrival lounge.

In accordance with the instruction, former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, who arrived from Dhaka en route to Delhi, was checked by doctors. Airport authorities said Vietnam Prime Minister Nong Due Manh and his delegation, arriving tomorrow, would not be spared either.

With one more SARS case detected today, Kongari said the airport has ordered 200 WHO-certified masks from Apollo Gleneagles Hospital.

“The masks are expensive at Rs 64 per piece and can be used for only a couple of days. It has a thick porous layer and we are providing these to doctors, paramedics and others who are coming within three metres of the passengers,” Goswami said.

Buxy added: “We are fumigating the arrival lounge twice a week and have instructed international airlines to provide masks to passengers on board.”

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