| A nurse with a mask at the Pune hospital. (Reuters)
Mumbai, April 22: A Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) patient rushed out of a Pune hospital last evening, got married and came back to the isolation ward, with her brand-new husband and 30 invitees.
In a late reaction to the wedding that has put the lives of the groom and the guests — several children among them — at risk, state health minister Digvijay Khanvilkar said he was shocked. “It should not have happened.”
Julie D’Silva, her mother Vimla and brother Stanley, who had returned from a trip to Indonesia in time for the wedding, had tested positive for the disease that has spread panic across the world and sent large numbers of people into self-imposed quarantine. The three were isolated in Siddharth Hospital and Khanvilkar, who announced the SARS cases yesterday, had said the wedding was postponed.
But the bride rushed to the city’s Methodist Church, said her vows with 29-year-old Shailesh Suryavanshi — a tehsildar in Ratnagiri district — and came back to the hospital. The groom and all the guests have also been quarantined now.
Doctors in Mumbai are horrified. “We are taking this whole thing too damn lightly,” said Dr Satish M. Gaekwad, an epidemiologist. “The consequences of such carelessness in a country like India, which apart from its one billion population can’t even match the technology adopted by hospitals in SARS-hit countries like Hong Kong, China and Canada, can be disastrous,” he said.
At the Pune hospital, doctors are at a loss to explain how they could allow the D’Silvas to put the health of so many people at risk. “Julie and all the others had taken adequate precautions,” they fumbled, adding that the bride had been warned not to go ahead but she was unrelenting.
“They (the D’Silvas) refused to postpone the marriage though they agreed to make it very fast by just exchanging rings,’’ a doctor said. “The wedding was over within 20 minutes.” It could not be confirmed if the bride and the groom kissed.
Subhash Salunke, director general, public health, said the government was “monitoring those who had attended the wedding”. He had no explanation why the marriage was allowed. All contacts made by the D’Silvas would be “traced and put under surveillance”, Salunke said.
The family returned to India on April 8 and appeared to have interacted with a lot of people since. They spent time with relatives and friends in Ambernath, Thane, and also stayed with a 10-member family in Pune for a few days. Stanley was admitted to hospital on April 17 and his mother and sister followed two days later.
Simon Alhat, with whom the D’Silvas stayed at their Bibvewadi residence, however, said they are not worried as “everyone slept separately”.
Khanvilkar said a state alert was sounded for the virus last night and a “contact-tracing drive’’ had been launched to find out all those who had come in touch with the family.
The patients were in an isolation ward and “11 persons who were close to the Ambernath family have been kept in quarantine”, he said. Twenty doctors and paramedical staff of the Siddharth Hospital have also been isolated, the minister added. The only silver lining is that the family appears to be “recovering”.