Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma revealed the names of the five people who had tested Covid-19 positive in the state on Wednesday afternoon (the number went up to 16 late that evening).
Assam was the first to reveal the names and personal details of the Covid-19 positive patients, and that sparked a furore with many on social media lambasting the revelations. Critics of the move called it a violation of medical ethics and even minority-bashing since all the patients were Muslims.
But the Health Minister said that the unprecedented move to name the patients was dictated by “unprecedented circumstances” and a “looming medical emergency”. The decision was a “considered” one taken after “a lot of deliberation”.
“We named the (Covid-19 positive) patients in order to alert all those who would have come in touch with them to get themselves quarantined and watch out for symptoms of the (coronavirus) infection,” said the minister.
He said that very few of the Nizamuddin returnees had disclosed voluntarily that they had attended the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at the Banglewali Masjid there.
“Fortunately, we had the names and mobile numbers of all those who were in Nizamuddin on the days of the congregation. So we could get in touch with them and bring them to the quarantine centres,” said Sarma.
The Assam government had, in fact, made public the list of all 456 people, who were part of the congregation and had even visited or passed by the vicinity of the Banglewali Masjid when the congregation was on.
Some of the 456 had not attended the congregation and a few even turned out to be Hindus, who had visited Nizamuddin on work or were simply passing by that place. The 456 were traced based on their mobile tower locations. That is, they were found to be in Nizamuddin, inside the mosque or in its vicinity, while the congregation was being held.
“All those who attended the Tablighi Jamaat congregation and returned to Assam violated their home isolation protocol and were moving around freely in their areas. One of the persons who turned out to be positive (Wednesday) and lives in Jagi Road (57 kilometres east of Guwahati) had even come out to sell chicken on the day of the ‘janata curfew’ (22 March). Hence, we fear that they may have infected a huge number of people they would have come in contact with. And so it is necessary to alert everyone who had come in contact with them,” reasoned Sarma.
The rationale behind alerting everyone is to motivate them to report themselves to the nearest health centre, get themselves quarantined and then tested if they display symptoms of the infection, said the minister.
“If people get to know the identities of the people who have tested positive, they will also realise if they had come in contact with them (the patients). And then they can report themselves to the authorities and take adequate precautions,” said Sarma.
Sarma rejected the criticism about violation of medical protocol and patient confidentiality as well as targeting minorities.
“All those who are raising such criticisms have no idea of ground realities. The criticisms are baseless. Our actions were motivated by greater good of the people and to ensure everyone’s safety,” he added.
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