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Details of COVID-19 patients leaked in Tiruvarur, patient gets calls from strangers

This is not the first instance of personal details of COVID-19 patients being leaked in the state.

In a shocking instance of breach of privacy, names, addresses and contact numbers of at least two COVID-19 patients who are currently being treated at the Thiruvarur Medical College and Hospital were circulated on social media apps. One of the patients has been receiving calls from strangers inquiring about his well-being, this breach of privacy has also led to his family being discriminated against by their neighbours.

Abdul*, a 30-year-old man, had travelled from Chennai to his native place in Thiruvarur district on June 2 when he was stopped at the checkpost and asked to undergo RT-PCR test for COVID-19. “We were first taken to the Central University of Tamil Nadu (CUTN) in Thiruvarur to stay till our test results. Our results came back positive on June 3 and then we were shifted to the Government Hospital in Thiruvarur,” Abdul told TNM.

However, it was from June 6, Saturday, that he started getting random missed calls on his phone number. “I initially didn’t mind the missed calls, but after 5-6 calls, I picked some calls and asked them who they were and they didn’t tell me. They told me that they saw my number on local WhatsApp groups and called to check on me,” he added.

Abdul then realised that his number was circulating on many groups and it seemed to have been leaked from government records.

Lab results from VRDL Thiruvarur

In fact, another Twitter user Raviraaj had flagged this issue of confidential information of COVID-19 patients in Thiruvarur being circulated on WhatsApp on May 13. He had tagged the state Health Secretary, the Health minister and the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in his tweets, with a screenshot of the image he got in one of the local messaging groups. This message had details of two other patients being treated at the Thiruvarur Medical College and Hospital.

In both these instances, lab results from the Viral Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (VRDL) in the medical college were leaked. The VRDL lab in Thiruvarur was one of the first government labs in the state to be approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to carry out RT-PCR testing to determine COVID-19 status of patients.

However, what annoyed Abdul more is that due to his address being revealed on social media, his family in a village around 20 kilometres away are being targeted and discriminated against by others in the same locality.

“People in my native started telling each other not to pass through the street where my house is located as people will get COVID-19,” he said. He added that this has made life difficult for his parents aged 64 and 51 and his grandmother (81) who live in the village. Abdul is waiting to recover so that he can lodge an official complaint with the District Collector of Thiruvarur.

In relation to the previous instance reported from the same district, District Collector T Anand agreed that some challenges have been identified in sending the lab results of COVID-19 tested patients to different departments for immediate intervention. "We have had a relook on the reporting mechanism and since the data needs to be sent immediately to field units for immediate intervention, it definitely poses challenges, we are having a critical look on the process and info exchange," he added.

This is not the first time that the contact details and other private identity information of COVID-19 has been leaked in Tamil Nadu. On May 21, the Chengalpattu district administration came under flak for publishing Google maps with details of COVID-19 patients residences. Similar breaches of privacy have also happened in Dharapuram in Tiruppur district.  

(*name changed on request)

The News Minute