CRPF man's death sparks row over COVID-19 guidelines

CRPF man's death sparks row over different COVID-19 guidelines in force; MHA takes note

A man offers funeral prayers for a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) officer who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). (Reuters Photo)

The death of a 55-year-old CRPF officer due to COVID-19 and about 50 other troops of his battalion being infected with the disease have rung alarm bells in the establishment after it was found that "dichotomous" orders were issued to the country's largest paramilitary force to check the spread of the pandemic.

CRPF Director General (DG) A P Maheshwari has again issued fresh directives that all suspected coronavirus cases will have to undertake a "mandatory" quarantine of 14 days after it recently came to light that the medical wing of the paramilitary issued a separate order sometime in April stating that asymptomatic staffers can join work after a five-day quarantine.

Maheshwari told PTI that after multiple positive cases were reported from the Delhi-based 31st battalion of the force, contact tracing led them to the source -- a nursing assistant jawan, who had joined duty at this unit upon returning from leave after undergoing "only five days quarantine".

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The nursing assistant, who himself is admitted to a Delhi hospital after he was detected positive for the virus, worked at the unit hospital for some days after spending five days in quarantine and it is suspected that the infection travelled from him to other troops of the 31st battalion. 

"Our general order was 14 days quarantine for any person who came back to the unit after leave or had exposure to COVID-19 infected person. Then we found there was another order by the medical wing that said medical staff who undergo five days quarantine and have no symptoms can be taken off quarantine.

"These were dichotomous orders. I have sought a written explanation from the Director Medical of the force on April 26 and have also referred the case to the ADG (Medical)," the CRPF chief told PTI.

The office of Additional DG (Medical) functions under the Union home ministry and has operational control over the medical wings of all Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) like the CRPF, BSF and CISF among others.

"I have asked the ADG (Medical) to take appropriate action on the directive issued by our medical director," the DG said.

H L Raskaran, CRPF's medical director, declined to comment stating he was "not authorised to speak to the media". 

A senior official said the Union home ministry has taken note of this "serious" incident where a soldier has lost his life and about 50 others were infected with the pandemic in a single battalion.

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The CRPF, on its part, has already submitted a report to the ministry of home affairs (MHA).

The ministry has sought details of the entire sequence of events, also the first case of COVID-19 death in CAPFs, from the force by this month-end.

The official said the CRPF DG has now issued fresh directives that all suspected cases will have to undergo mandatory 14-day quarantine as stipulated under the central government and global health bodies like WHO for COVID-19 containment.

The Sub-Inspector who hailed from Assam had tested positive for the virus a few days back and he breathed his last on Tuesday at the Safdarjung hospital in Delhi.

As the official suffered from co-morbid conditions like hypertension and diabetes he was admitted to the premier central government hospital while the rest of his positive colleagues have been admitted to a state government quarantine facility in Mandoli, a CRPF officer said.

The last rites of the deceased will take place in Delhi as per medical procedures decided for COVID-19 linked deaths, the official said.

While the entire premises of the 31st battalion based in Mayur Vihar has been sealed, about a thousand personnel and their families have been put on different levels of quarantine.

At least 45 personnel from this battalion have already tested positive for the coronavirus and are admitted in various hospitals in the national capital. Over 400 samples from this unit have already been collected, officials said.

A jawan of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) and a doctor of the CRPF were earlier detected positive for COVID-19.

The 3.25 lakh personnel-strong CRPF is designated as the lead internal security force of the country apart from being the mainstay for anti-Naxal operations and counter-terrorist duties in the Kashmir valley.

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