New Delhi: In a letter written by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba to all state chief secretaries, the seniormost bureaucrat has indicated there is a mismatch in the number of international passengers who reached India before commercial flights were banned vis-a-vis those currently in quarantine. He has directed state governments to step up the surveillance of international passengers.
In a letter to chief secretaries of all States and Union Territories, Gauba said such a gap in monitoring of international passengers for coronavirus "may seriously jeopardise the efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19", given that many amongst the persons who have tested positive so far in India have history of international travel.
"As you are aware, we initiated screening of international incoming passengers at the airports with effect from January 18, 2020. I have been informed that up to March 23, 2020, cumulatively, Bureau Of Immigration has shared details of more than 15 lakh incoming international passengers with the States/UTs for monitoring for COVID-19," he wrote.
"However, there appears to be a gap between the number of international passengers who need to be monitored by the States/UTs and the actual number of passengers being monitored," he added.
The letter did not indicate the total number of passengers who were under surveillance.
The government had started monitoring of all international passengers who have arrived in India in last two months in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
Gauba said "it is important that all international passengers are put under close surveillance to prevent the spread of the epidemic".
He said the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has repeatedly emphasised the importance of monitoring, and requested the states and UTs to take immediate steps in this regard.
"I would, therefore, like to request you to ensure that concerted and sustained action is taken urgently to put such passengers under surveillance immediately as per MoHFW guidelines," he said.
Gauba urged the chief secretaries to actively involve the district authorities in this effort. The screening of international incoming passengers at airports was done from January 18 in a phased manner.
State government officials, however, contend that the Bureau of Immigration list sent to them often did not have complete and accurate information about the passengers.
“I understand that the Ministry of Health has repeatedly emphasised this and requested states and UTs to take immediate steps in this regard. I would, therefore, like to request to ensure that concerted and sustained action is taken urgently to put such passengers under surveillance immediately as per MOHFW guidelines,” said Gauba’s letter.
The tepid response from states may be ascertained from the fact that in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur and Saran districts, authorities have been able to locate only 385 of the 500 people mentioned in the Centre’s list.
“In some cases, people had mentioned their international contact numbers, which had made it difficult for us to track them... However, through our anganwadi 'sevikas' and teachers, we have now been able to track more than 250 out of the 300-odd ‘missing cases’ in our district, and only 30-odd now remain to be located,” said Saran District Magistrate Subrat Kumar Sen.
The central and state governments have unleashed unprecedented and extraordinary measures to contain the spread of the fast-spreading coronavirus, which has already infected more than 700 people in the country and claimed at least 17 lives.
A nationwide lockdown was also announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday for 21 days.
(With inputs from PTI)