The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt herds virus cases into one hospital

Calcutta, April 29: As SARS suspects continued to trickle into Calcutta by air, the government scrambled to turn Beleghata’s Infectious Diseases Hospital into the nerve-centre of the fight against the virus.

With the government shifting focus to the one-point arena, the state’s first confirmed patient (Asitabha Purakayastha) joined the only other till date (Radheyshyam Gupta) at ID Hospital after a day as dramatic as yesterday.

ID Hospital came under the rule of Coordination Committee, the CPM’s government-staff wing, a few hours before Purakayastha’s family “agreed” —presumably under government pressure — to take him there.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee also waded into the thick of the battle to contain an outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

The government sent a medical team to the airport to help the Airports Authority of India handle passengers with SARS symptoms.

However, the airport, belying claims of a fortress-like build-up there, was free ground for the latest suspect — Hazari Prasad, a resident of Gorakhpur —who roamed around for an hour before officials finally caught up with him. He had arrived by a flight from Bangkok last night.

At the end of the day, the SARS count in the state stood at two confirmed cases (Madhyamgram’s Purakayastha and Tangra’s Gupta) and two suspects (Prasad and Watgunj’s Jamil Ahmed who was quarantined yesterday).

With Purakayastha’s apparently forced transfer to ID Hospital — with a police escort around him — all of them are at ID Hospital, much according to the chief minister’s plans.

State health secretary Asim Barman announced at Writers’ Buildings that 300 of the hospital’s 750 beds would be kept reserved for anyone showing SARS symptoms. There would be two wings, one for suspects and the other for confirmed cases, he added.

“The infrastructure already exists,” he said, adding that two cardiologists – and cardiac monitors and ventilators – had been sent there to bolster services.

One of the patients, Gupta did not appear impressed. Opening a window with broken panes, the masked Gupta told the media that he was having a tough time inside. “There’s no air-conditioning machine here and it’s very hot and sticky,” he said.

At Writers’ Buildings, however, the government moved on with its plans. “There’s no need to panic,” Bhattacharjee said, appealing to all to send every SARS-symptom person to ID Hospital. “The responsibility is ours once a suspect enters the hospital. We will provide all necessary treatment,” he said.

“There’s no law to force all suspects there but we have to act with the welfare of the greater good in mind,” Barman said. “According to the World Health Organisation protocol handed to us, every family member of every SARS suspect will be required to maintain minimal contact with the outside world,” he added.

Central agencies moved in tandem. A message came from the director-general of health services office in New Delhi, promising special respirators and masks to ID Hospital. Till the special masks arrived, the DGHS office recommended using two surgical masks (one on top of the other).

Officials also expressed hope that the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases would be able to test antibody samples from SARS suspects by the end of the week and give the result within 48 hours of getting the samples. “A virologist has gone to Pune’s Institute of Virology to get the primer necessary for the diagnosis,” an NICED official said.

The state government has sent a team to the airport to assist the health wing there. This team would carry out follow-up monitoring to check whether SARS symptoms appeared in any passenger coming from the affected countries after leaving the airport, officials said.

Burdwan Medical College and Hospital, however, appears to have stolen a march on its more celebrated city cousins. BMCH principal Bijay Mukherjee said two beds of the intensive care unit had been separated – along with a cardio-monitor and a ventilator – to take care of any future SARS case.

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