Indra Gupta’s desk is full of clutter—sheaves of papers strewn all over, an old copy of a Hindi daily serving as the mouse pad for her desktop. The office is truly sarkari in character—mosaic floor, steel almirah, a bell to seek services of the peon, and a red and white striped towel on the chair. The sanitiser and a bunch of masks seem to be recent additions to the desk. Gupta is the deputy chief medical and health officer of Jaipur district. And she is leading a dedicated team working round-the-clock in battling the spread of coronavirus ever since the department found the first suspected patient earlier this month in the city of maharajas.
On March 2, an Italian tourist to Jaipur tested positive for coronavirus; later his wife tested positive too. He was from a batch of 23 tourists who had visited India and, save for the couple, were set to leave the country the same day. Gupta rushed to the hotel where he had stayed and started tracing people who might have come in contact with them—hotel staff, other guests, a tourist guide accompanying them, and the driver of their vehicle, among others. Information was immediately relayed to Delhi and the remaining tourists of the batch were stopped at the airport and told to test for the virus.
Later, an area of 3km radius around the hotel was marked and teams were sent around to question people if they had come in contact with the Italian visitors, and if they showed any symptoms of the coronavirus. The room they stayed in was fumigated and locked. More cases have emerged since then and it only means more work for Gupta. She is constantly keeping track of the calls her team is making for information.
“I’ll employ all my people to trace this person, but give me some clue at least?” she tells a person from another government department on phone as she goes through a bunch of papers. She then instructs one of her subordinates—who is squeezing dollops of sanitiser on his hands every now and then—to prepare a file of all the correspondence with the state health directorate. The phone rings again, and she tells another official on the other end, “Come to my place in the evening. We could discuss this while I cook.”
Her department has also roped in nursing students who are going door-to-door, spreading general awareness and asking people to get tested if they show any symptoms. The health officials haven’t seen a situation as this before. “Earlier, I had seen outbreaks of diarrhoea in small areas but they were managed easily in one or two days,” says Gupta. But the spectre of coronavirus has the team on its toes for weeks.
“If I take leave, how will my staff work,” she asks, adding that she has only taken a day off in weeks. Her plans for celebrations on Holi were cut short when another person tested positive—she had to urgently call in her team members to office, from where they proceeded to the person’s house. The family members of the person lied about their travel history, refused to get tested, and argued with the team for allegedly “bringing disrepute to them”, she says. It took a lot of persuasion for them to agree.
These trips result in some added work for Gupta at home too—washing her work clothes separately with hot water and drying them in sun for thorough disinfection. But she is not complaining.
By Salik Ahmad in Jaipur