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Pune virus cases mushroom

Mumbai, April 30: Pune relapsed into fear today after the government announced that nine more persons, all medical staff, have tested positive for the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus.

This is the maximum number of cases recorded in India on a single day after the virus crossed its frontiers earlier on April 17. It also takes to 19 the number of persons affected by the virus in the country — with a case being reported in Punjab.

The disclosure of more cases in Pune came just when the city was heaving a sigh of relief over the release of Maharashtra’s first three virus patients — one of whom had slipped out and tied the knot.

The D’Silvas — Stanley, Julie and Vimla — and a relative were released from Naidu hospital in Pune on Tuesday and declared by the doctors to have “completely recovered”. The nine persons declared to be SARS positive today were mostly those who had attended to the D’Silvas at Pune’s Siddharth hospital.

Maharashtra chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said preliminary tests conducted by Pune’s National Institute of Virology have found strains of coronavirus that causes SARS in the blood of nine staff members, including a few doctors, of Siddharth Hospital. The results of the second, more definitive, round of tests will be available after a couple of days.

More than 20 medical staff of Siddharth Hospital had been quarantined after they treated the D’Silvas before the family was shifted to the better-equipped Naidu hospital. Those who have not tested positive in the first examination would also be subjected to the second round, considered more conclusive.

Shinde, who said the doctors and their staff were kept under surveillance as they were treating SARS-affected patients, added that the new patients had not shown any of the typical symptoms. “They did not exhibit any of the SARS symptoms like cough or high fever,’’ he said.

Shinde said medical officers had been positioned at Mumbai’s international airport and directed to conduct tests on passengers coming from abroad. “We have made available a 24-hour ambulance facility at the airport. Ventilators, masks and other medicinal facilities have also been made available at government and municipal hospitals in Mumbai as well as in district hospitals across the state.’’

Maharashtra health minister Digvijay Khanvilkar emphasised the need to take firm steps to quarantine those with symptoms of SARS. He said efforts were being made to equip government hospitals like JJ, Kasturba and V. N. Desai.

The minister’s statement came against the backdrop of protests by residents of Kumar Colony, where the D’Silvas had initially stayed. The residents have been holding dharnas, and setting up road blocks and asking doctors from the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) to shift the Pawar family with whom the D’Silvas stayed.

“We will not be boycotted by our friends because of them,’’ one of the protesters told the doctors.

Many residents have already left the colony for “safer” places “until matters improve”. Dheeraj Ranjan, a resident, said he had sent his family to his native Rajasthan.

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