Govt scrambles to track down 247 'missing' UK returnees

Karnataka govt scrambles to track down 247 'missing' UK returnees

While the government has assembled a profile of all 2,406 fliers, the missing individuals have rejected moves from the government to get in touch with them

As many as 247 out of the 2,406 passengers, who flew into Karnataka from the United Kingdom before flights were suspended, have gone silent and are listed as “not traceable”.

The situation arises as the government scrambles to contain a potential outbreak of the new UK-origin version of the coronavirus, dubbed B.1.1.1.7.

Health Commissioner Pankaj Pandey confirmed that the original number of non-traceable people was 732. “Currently, 240 of them are in Bengaluru. The remaining seven are from other districts,” he said.

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While the government has assembled a profile of all 2,406 fliers, the missing individuals have rejected moves from the government to get in touch with them.

“It has become frustrating,” said Dr P R S Chetan, Officer Commanding Headquarters, Civil Defence, whose people have been trying to trace 30 fliers in Bommanahalli Zone. A total of 207 non-traceable fliers fall within the BBMP’s jurisdiction.

“These fliers are generally well educated and sophisticated. We expected them to partner with the government. Instead, many are absconding,” Dr Chetan said.

The issue has prompted the Department of Health and Family Welfare to seek police help. On Monday, Minister of Health Dr K Sudhakar suggested that swift action be taken against those continuing to hold out in the face of government efforts to reach them via phone numbers, email and social media.

“I request the UK returnees to cooperate with us as responsible citizens. You have to get tested. If you do not get tested and switch off your phone, it is a crime in the true sense,” Sudhakar said.

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Police Commissioner Kamal Pant said that a Special Task Force has been set up to trace the uncooperative fliers. “We received the mandate to do so today. The DCP Central has been appointed as nodal officer for the tracing operation,” Pant said.

Meantime, Pandey said that law enforcement authorities are also considering other measures such as cell tower triangulation. The most common excuse among untraceable who have been found is that they received no notification on their UK-origin phone numbers, according to Dr Chetan. However, official data for 2,158 passengers shows that all but 91 had an Indian phone number.

Containment failure fears

There are fears that a small number will evade the police dragnet. “We have information that some passengers have gone out of the state,” said a senior source in the BBMP. This could affect containment. “These people are generating primary contacts wherever they are. In Bengaluru, we have tested 43 primary contacts of passengers. Two tested positive, including a person in Dasarahalli and a person in West Zone,” the official said.

The Palike said that 15 primary contacts are from Mahadevapura, 11 from Bommanahalli, nine from West Zone, three each from Dasarahalli and East Zones and two from South
Zone.