Nanjangud- Inside Karnataka's red zone

WION Bengaluru, Karnataka, India Apr 05, 2020, 10.54 AM(IST) Written By: Nischita Verrendra

Mysuru is one of the Covid-19 hotspots identified by the Union Health Ministry after one employee of a pharmaceutical company in Nanjangud tested positive on March 26. Photograph:( WION )

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Before the Nanjangud cluster came to light, Mysuru had developed a system to track over 1400 foreign returnees.

Hundreds of officials in Nanjangud, Mysuru are working round the clock. Quarantined persons are receiving calls twice a day, teams are dispatched to check on their status, samples being collected of close to 800 people and the region has been put on complete lockdown, there is no movement into or out of the zone except for essential supplies. 

Mysuru is one of the COVID-19 hotspots identified by the Union Health Ministry after one employee of a pharmaceutical company in Nanjangud tested positive on March 26. The patient, P52, is the third positive case from the district and has no travel history or contact history with a positive case.  

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From one case in Nanjangud on March 26, the number has risen to 21 in the cluster(as of April 4) - with most of the infected persons being employees of Jubilant Generics, the company that is engaged in manufacturing ingredients for pharmaceutical companies. The source of the infection continues to evade authorities. The state government has now termed this a "Cluster Containment Area". 

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"We have made Nanjangud and surrounding areas a Cluster Containment Area. We don’t call it a red zone. We call it a Cluster Containment area, that is the term we use as per the guidelines of the Department of Health and Family Welfare. The Cluster Containment protocol says that the city has to be sealed, entry and exit should be completely barred except for basic essentials like groceries, medicines which go to the city. Nobody leaves, nobody comes in." says Abhiram Shankar, District Commissioner, Mysuru.  

The Nanjangud cluster case revolves around Jubilant Generics. P52, is an employee in the quality control section. He was displaying pneumonia-like symptoms and had been admitted to a private hospital. According to the district DC, the private hospital sent his samples to the government lab in Mysore Medical College and the samples tested positive for the virus setting alarm bells ringing. 

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The district administration moved quickly screening all 1000+ employees in the company. So far close to 800 of them have been home quarantined. In all 1623 people have been identified and quarantined in Mysuru district. While a majority of them are in Nanjangud city, the rest are scattered in Mysuru city, HD Kote, parts of rural Mysuru, Mandya, Chamarajanagar and a few other neighbouring districts. 

The region spread across Nanjangud city limits and adjoining residential areas have been put on complete lockdown. Only one highway is open for essential goods with separate entry and exit points.

"The interstate highway that connects Karnataka with Tamil Nadu and Kerala passes through Nanjangud. That is the only highway we have kept open for entry and exits for these essential services. So any vehicle that is travelling from the city to Tamil Nadu has to take a roundabout route of an extra 35kms, circumnavigate the city and exit without entering the city. These measures have been in place since March 27." says Abhiram.  

Before the Nanjangud cluster came to light, Mysuru had developed a system to track over 1400 foreign returnees.

The district had set up a call centre with 15 callers, who call each of those under home quarantine twice a day to check on them. If any of the persons fail to answer the call, then a team is dispatched to physically check on them. 

‘The same system has been replicated for Nanjangud as almost 800 people are quarantined in the region. We have a call centre opened in Nanjangud with trained persons, who call the isolated persons twice and day and whoever does not respond then a team is dispatched to check on them. The neighbourhood residents have also been told to inform officials if the quarantined persons are seen outside their homes.The district superintendent has also allotted 10-15 quarantined houses to each police constable. The constables are given the responsibility to check on each of the houses every day.’ says the Mysuru DC.

When asked how many officials are working on ground to contain the spread, the DC tells WION that it is hard to put a number to it as the mechanism has been decentralised. Taluk level officials have been decentralised and a Taluk level response team of 5 persons has been formed. The five officials are free to delegate and take any official from any department to carry out the duty. ‘We have hundreds of officers working on the field.’ says Abhiram.  

The screening centre and Covid-19 hospital are both based in Mysuru city. Any symptomatic patient is shifted to Mysuru, if found positive they continue to be treated there, if found negative they are shifted back to their homes. The system has worked well so far in containing the spread, and also ensuring that fewer healthcare workers are in need of protective gear like PPE suits.

Another challenge that officials are facing is that of crowd control. Despite the national lockdown and the region sealing off, residents in Mysuru continue to step out every day to visit the vegetable markets. While the awareness is increasing with each passing day, police are often forced to dispatch teams to disperse crowds that gather in the evenings.

But what about the source of the infection? Can this be classified as a case of community transfer? The DC and Commissioner of the Department of Health and Family Welfare continue to assert that this is not a case of community transfer, however the source of the virus is yet to be found. The packaging material of a consignment that had arrived from China to Jubilant Generics has also been tested, but no sign of contamination was found. 

But there are also reasons to cheer. The lockdown of the cluster has restricted the positive cases to those under observation, escaping community transfer by just a whisker. ‘People who are already in quarantine are turning positive. It is a good sign that only the primary and secondary contacts of P52 are turning positive. People whom we expect to turn positive are turning positive. There is nothing out of the blue that is happening.’ says the DC.