Coronavirus Outbreak: Differences emerge between Karnataka MPs, MLA over fixing accountability after pharma employee in Nanjangud infects 73 others

Nanjangud's BJP MLA B Harshavardhan, who is the son-in-law of party MP V Srinivasa Prasad representing Chamarajanagar Lok Sabha constituency is angry with the state government over the handling of the issue.

Naheed Ataulla April 29, 2020 12:05:31 IST
Coronavirus Outbreak: Differences emerge between Karnataka MPs, MLA over fixing accountability after pharma employee in Nanjangud infects 73 others

Bengaluru: The BJP government in Karnataka has got itself into knots over the source of one person tested positive for COVID-19 and became a transmitter for 73 others.

It's the case of who done it and while the mystery remains unresolved even after over a month, the local  BJP MP and MLA also from the same party are quibbling over how the person — Patient  52 — got the virus, while two ministers went public that the puzzle had been unravelled even as Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa ordered a probe to trace the reason. The  Karnataka High Court on Tuesday dismissed a Public Interest  Litigation (PIL) filed on the issue.

Coronavirus Outbreak Differences emerge between Karnataka MPs MLA over fixing accountability after pharma employee in Nanjangud infects 73 others

File photo of Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa. PTI

Of the total 89 COVID-19 positive cases reported in Mysuru district, 10 are linked to Tablighi Jamaat attendees, of the remaining six, two were persons who came from Dubai, four related to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and the rest (73) were those who came in contact with P-52.

The mystery is just not confined over how P-52, a 35-year-old employee of Noida-based Jubilant Generics Limited in the temple town of Nanjangud taluk, 35 kilometres from Mysuru, got the coronavirus and became a carrier for 73 others (they include his colleagues and their secondary contacts) but the curious turns the single case has taken with the BJP's elected members views being at variance.'

The high court dismissed the PIL filed against the company for negligence in protecting the employees saying the need of the hour was in containing the pandemic. Jubilant Generics Limited is engaged in manufacturing active pharmaceutical ingredients and P-52  was one of the first cluster outbreaks of COVID-19 in Karnataka.

Nanjangud's BJP MLA B Harshavardhan, who is the son-in-law of party MP V Srinivasa Prasad representing Chamarajanagar Lok Sabha constituency is angry with the state government over the handling of the issue.

"I am totally disappointed and upset with the way my own party government is handling the pharma's case. The chief minister has not called me for discussions. There is interference by Mysuru BJP MP Prathap Simha, who is keen that the pharma, which has suspended the operations be reopened. The probe ordered into the cause of the virus has no basis with no FIR being filed against the company or the material seized," he said.

Simha in a Facebook post without naming Harshavardhan said there were some people who are trying to find reasons to close Jubilant and were accusing him of interfering in a taluk which does not come under his parliamentary constituency.

"People from Mysuru travel to Nanjangud and if the pharma is closed will those demanding the pharma's closure provide employment? Besides under what Act can action be taken against the company for importing material from China when India has not banned it?" he asked.

Various explanations for the virus transmission

Since P-52 claimed he had no overseas travel history, the main suspect was raw material imported from China by the pharma in  March. Samples of the material sent to the National Institute of Virology in Pune showed negative.

According to reports from the local health officials in Nanjangud, P-52 took treatment at a private hospital on 13 March and continued to report to work. When the fever did not subside he went for further tests on 20 March and on 26 March was confirmed positive for COVID-19.

During this period 23 other employees who came in contact with him tested positive. The company has 1,050 employees and a majority of them have been home quarantined.

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Harshavardhan said the government had spent Rs 7 crore so far on the pharma's employees and the expenditure included the tests which cost Rs 4,000 per person, quarantining and providing them ration. The quarantining which has been done in phases will end on 1 May, he said.

He also disputed the report that the virus could not have come from the consignment.

"I am a Science student and aware that bacteria become active in cold storage and the consignment has come in powder and jell form for which a cold chain is required,'' Harshavardhan said.

Two ministers make confusing statements

On 18 April, Primary and Secondary Education Minister S Suresh Kumar, who has been made the spokesperson on COVID-19 said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had written to Karnataka chief secretary that 10 foreign nationals from China, Japan, Germany and the US had visited the pharma in February.

The MEA had contacted the 10 foreign nationals and nine had confirmed they were fine while the report from the German was awaited.

Kumar claimed it was now suspected that one of the people was a carrier of the virus and could have transmitted it to P-52.

Medical Education Minister K Sudhakar speaking to a news channel recently ruled out the virus being transmitted through the consignment's handling and said according to reports from the home department P-52, who was initially P-0 had travelled to China and had interacted with persons there.

"We are relieved that the issue has been cracked," he told the channel.

What the pharma says

In a press statement on 25 April, the company said it had informed the district administration that one of the employees (P52) had tested positive for COVID–19. The employee was unwell and had stopped coming to the plant from 20 March.

He did not attend office from 21 to 26 March until he was detected positive and was under medical observation later. He was discharged from the hospital on 10 April after being tested negative.

Besides the company imported raw material from various countries and once it reached the plant the drums or packs are vacuum cleaned before taking them inside the warehouse.

However,  Harshavardhan is not ready to buy all the explanations given by the government or the company.

"Since the last two years, my constituency has been facing one calamity after another. For two years we had a flood and now COVID-19. Nanjangud is getting a social stigma and my mother has asked me not to come home. No one from my party is supporting me and I am isolated," he said.

Meanwhile, senior bureaucrat Harsh Gupta, who was the nodal officer for COVID-19 in Mysuru and has been asked to probe the reasons for Nanjandud becoming the epicentre for the coronavirus said he would commence after getting certain clarifications from the government. He was asked to submit the report within a week after being put in charge of the probe on 25 April.

"I have got the police report and awaiting a reply to the clarifications sought by me," Gupta said.

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