'Did you have a haircut?': Chennai residents asked during COVID-19 contact tracing

On Wednesday, the Tamil Nadu government revealed that a second case of COVID-19 was discovered in Chennai - a 20-year-old hair stylist from Uttar Pradesh.
'Did you have a haircut?': Chennai residents asked during COVID-19 contact tracing
'Did you have a haircut?': Chennai residents asked during COVID-19 contact tracing

On Wednesday evening, even as residents of Tamil Nadu were delivered crucial news on yet another COVID-19 case in its capital, officers from the health department were already on the ground to tackle the further spread of the virus. A 20-year-old hairstylist from Uttar Pradesh’s Rampur, who had been staying at Arumbakkam in Zone 8 of the Chennai Corporation tested positive for the virus on March 18, a day after he approached a government hospital, displaying symptoms.

Health officials who were part of a drive to disinfect the area that the patient lives in, tell TNM that he had been residing in a large room with five other tenants since March 12. The 20-year-old had taken a train from Delhi on March 10 and arrived in Chennai on March 12.

He had been working in a salon in the neighbourhood and only started displaying symptoms after he arrived in the city. On March 17, he visited the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital in Chennai with symptoms of the virus, following which he was tested and certified as positive for COVID-19.

While a team of 10 was deployed last night for the disinfection process, another group of 15 set out this morning to find out if any residents in the area were experiencing symptoms of the virus.

"While the patient himself went to the hospital and got himself admitted, we had to move his roommates and two other tenants who were living in the house below (a total of seven people) into quarantine in our Poonamallee facilities," says Priyadarshini, the health officer of Zone 8. "In addition to this another team went door to door today to over six streets to find out if anyone was exhibiting symptoms of the virus and had travelled out of the state or country recently," she adds.

But according to one health worker, who was part of the team on the ground, one of the questions asked to people in the locality was - "Have you had a haircut in ******* Men's beauty parlour recently?"

"The patient had been working already and we wanted to ensure that there was no transmission of the virus. So this was a question we were instructed to ask," says the health worker. "Whoever has said they have symptoms or travel history has been recorded and the information given to the Chennai Corporation," added the worker.

Officials deployed health workers on Wednesday evening to spray disinfectant in the area that the patient was staying in. A health camp was also held to teach residents how to wash their hands effectively and what steps have to be taken in the next week to prevent the spread of the virus.

But when questioned about which train the patient had arrived in and whether co-passengers had been alerted health officials refused to answer.

While Zone 8 authorities state that they have handed over this crucial information to the Health Department, officials themselves remain unwilling to divulge details.

Both Dr Kolandaswamy, the Director of Public Health and Beela Rajesh, the Health Secretary, when contacted by TNM, refused to reveal which train the patient was travelling on and whether those he had come in contact with in the coach were quarantined.

A senior bureaucrat in the Tamil Nadu government, when asked about the attempt to keep this information under wraps, says, "Yes, ideally they should have told the public which train so that others could get tested. We have already told the Health Department to do this. We believe they will disclose the information."

When TNM tracked down the trains coming in from Delhi to Chennai on March 12, we found that there were only three possible options. The patient either arrived on TN Samparkranti, GT Express or Tamil Nadu Express. ToI however reports that the train taken was the Tamil Nadu Express and a team of health department officials and police are working on tracking down members of the public who were within close range of the patient.

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