COVID-19: In-transit pregnant woman forced into quarantine

Updated: Jul 04, 2020, 07:15 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Despite exemption for pregnant passengers, she had to stay in a luxury hotel where she had to shell out Rs 18,500 for five days, another Rs 2,800 for a COVID-19 test, and then was suddenly let off when it came negative

Amrutha, seen with husband Sreejith Venugopal in Luanda, landed in Mumbai on Sunday, June 28 and left for Kerala on Friday, July 3
Amrutha, seen with husband Sreejith Venugopal in Luanda, landed in Mumbai on Sunday, June 28 and left for Kerala on Friday, July 3

What was to be a happy journey for a pregnant woman on her way home to Kerala from Angola, turned into an ordeal when she was forced to stay in quarantine in Mumbai, when she landed here in transit. Though quarantine is exempt for certain categories of people including pregnant women, Amrutha Sreejith, 26, was put in quarantine in a luxury hotel near the international airport where she had to pay R18,500 for five days stay. The swab was taken three days later, even though she had no symptoms, and when the report came negative, she was hurriedly allowed to board a flight for Kerala, even before the seven days quarantine came to an end.

On Friday afternoon, Amrutha reached her parents house at Trichur and has been kept in home quarantine as per the protocol, informed her husband Sreejith Venugopal, speaking to mid-day from Luanda, Angola.

"My wife was illegally sent to a quarantine centre in Mumbai, though since she is pregnant, she could be exempt as per Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) guidelines. Not only did she have a horrible experience, but we also incurred financial losses, as she missed her connecting flight to Kerala and had to pay for her stay in the hotel (quarantine centre) for five days," said Sreejith, who works as a warehouse manager with a food distribution company in Luanda.

The ordeal

He claimed that since there is no direct flight from Luanda to Kerala, he had phoned the Mumbai international airport to inquire if a pregnant passenger in transit, would have to be put into quarantine in Mumbai. He said he booked the tickets only when the staff at the airport said there was no such need.

Sreejith added, on Sunday, few hours after Amrutha landed in Mumbai, he got a phone call from her saying a civic staffer had approached her and asked her to proceed for quarantine, which she refused, mentioning her connecting flight at 4 pm for Kerala. "Amrutha almost managed to convince the civic/suburban collector's staff, who agreed to allow her to continue her further journey and were making some papers, when another civic official intervened. He insisted that she be sent to quarantine and even threatened to call the police, if she disobeyed," he said. Sreejith said she was transported in a bus to a hotel near the airport and asked to pay R100 for the bus charges and her connecting domestic flight ticket (almost R7,500) was wasted. She was terrified, and had to stay at the hotel for next five days.

Amrutha in PPE on the flight to Kochi
Amrutha in PPE on the flight to Kochi

Sreejith alleged that the hotel initially asked her to pay Rs 5,000 for lodging and boarding, but when she expressed her inability to pay, they brought down the charges to Rs 3,700 per day (Rs 18,500 for five days stay). She was forced to undergo a COVID-19 test, though she had no symptoms. She paid another R2800 for the test which came negative, he added.

Relatives helped

Once in the hotel, Amrutha contacted some of her relatives in Mumbai seeking help. Balan Raghavan, 58, a relative residing in Shanti Nagar, Andheri (E) said, "With the local Malayalee association members, we approached a lawyer, Godfrey Pimenta, who was very helpful. He complained to senior BMC and state government officials including the chief minister's office."

The BMC in its directives issued on June 16 (copy with this paper), had exempted passengers arriving by international/domestic flights, from seven days of compulsory institutional quarantine at the airport. "We are expecting a probe into this episode, as BMC directives are very clear that a pregnant woman cannot be put in institutional quarantine for one week. Moreover Amrutha was a transit passenger, and had no intention to step out of the airport premises. We do not want anyone else to go through such an ordeal and therefore an inquiry is a must," said Balan.

Lawyer suspects a nexus

Advocate Pimenta, who is also a founder trustee of the Watchdog Foundation said, "This is a systematic scam and people are being pushed to the brink to extract large sums of money for hotel and COVID-19 testing charges, which are uncalled for. In this case, they had no business to forcefully send the pregnant woman to quarantine in a seven-star hotel. There seems to be a nexus between airport and hotel staff, to loot unsuspecting passengers and traumatise them. We have requested the Mumbai police and senior bureaucrats to probe the same and demanded stringent action against those involved."

"We are happy that Amrutha tested negative for COVID-19 and could take her flight back to Kerala on Friday morning. She still had to go through a lot of stress which could have been avoided," Pimenta added.

The other side

Dr Ajit Pamatwar, Medical Officer, K/E ward said, "It is the special team deployed at the airport (from the collector's office), who decides on the hotel quarantine or BMC quarantine for international passengers arriving at Mumbai, we have no role in the same."

"Once the passenger comes to a hotel quarantine, we are informed and as per the norms, three or four days later, we send a team to collect his/her swab. The result is usually released within 48 hours and by then the seven days of quarantine also come to an end. If the report is negative, we issue the required release papers and certificate for travel. In case the test is positive or in case of a medical emergency, we provide the required medical assistance to the passenger," said Pamatwar.

Attempts made to contact Milind Borikar, Suburban Collector, Mumbai did not yield result.

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