Thirty-seven people in a batch went from Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh to the Islamic holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia and, on their return, erased the stamps marking them for quarantine, dodged further security screening, reached home and mingled with many, perhaps infecting them too. The case came to light when the health of a woman, 73-year-old, in the batch deteriorated. She later tested coronavirus-positive. Subsequently, the woman’s son (33) tested coronavirus-positive too.
The Muslim family and their companions hail from Amaria, a tehsil in Pilibhit. From six villages in the tehsil, 37 people had gone to Umrah a few days ago. Of them, 25 were from one village, Hararpur.
They returned home on 19 March via Mecca to Mumbai. The security at the airport stamped ‘quarantine’ on their hands in Mumbai. But with the foreign perfume that they had bought during their trip, they wiped out the stamp.
They feared they could still not escape screening when they would reach Lucknow. So, they took a train.
“They were able to rub out the stamp with the help of a foreign perfume to avoid detection,” said a Pilibhit health official on condition of anonymity. “The group avoided air route and chose to travel by train from Mumbai to Lucknow,” he said.
After reaching Lucknow by train, they returned to their villages of Pilibhit by buses.
On the day of their return, the woman from Hararpur reported sick. She was taken to the district hospital.
Doctors suspected she was a patient of the coronavirus disease (COVID), given their travel history, which they could not hide from the medical practitioners who prodded them to confess. The sample was sent to King George’s Medical University (KGMU), Lucknow.
The medical examination report on 22 March revealed that the woman was infected with the coronavirus. Other members of the woman’s family were tested then. The woman’s son tested positive too. He had accompanied his mother to Mecca.
A senior police officer of the district said that, during interrogation, the whole batch admitted they had erased the quarantine stamp on their hands using a perfume. They said they feared being isolated or even excommunicated by other villagers.
The district administration and health department of Uttar Pradesh rushed the entire batch of 37 Mecca-returned travellers to the quarantine centre in Pilibhit.
Police sources say that before as well as after this incident, there have been other cases of people returning from abroad and erasing the quarantine stamp from their hands to escape isolation. The Ministry of Home Affairs, aware of the situation, has decided to use the indelible ink used to mark voters in an election in the quarantine stamp.