Though the lockdown to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus was in its early days towards the end of March, a protocol to deal with non-resident Indians coming into the country was well in place. So when Dr Abdul Rauf, a senior gynaecologist at an urban primary health centre in Jaipur, was told by a fellow doctor that he had made his two sons and their 10 friends, who had returned from Bangladesh, stay at a relative’s home in the city, he was shocked. “I persuaded him to inform the authorities and to have his sons and the relatives they had stayed with quarantined,” says Dr Rauf. Soon after, Dr Rauf heard about Mubarak Ali, a 52-year-old who had returned from Oman to Jaipur’s congested Ramganj area, and was displaying symptoms of COVID-19, mild fever, cough, but had been given a clean chit from two doctors in his family. Rauf informed the authorities, who went and met a reticent Ali, unwilling to be tested. When he finally did get tested, the results came back positive for the virus. Thus began a wild goose chase. The authorities, aided by Dr Rauf, had to track down the hundreds Ali had come in contact with and potentially infected. Of the 28 family members of Ali’s friend Haneef, 20 tested positive for the virus. Ali had also visited the local mosque a few times and friends and family members. Rauf and the team of cops called almost every person Ali could likely have spread the virus to over the next few days, identified potential cases and put thousands under quarantine. Of these, 700 tested positive. “That one person did not quarantine himself, kept moving and, even after he tested positive, did not give correct information about who all he had come in contact with. This single case changed the otherwise well-in-control corona situation in Jaipur,” Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot has often said to the press. Until Ali’s case, only an Italian couple and two NRIs had tested positive in Jaipur.
The state, though, was about to see worse things. Even as Dr Rauf and four other doctors, Vikas Krishania, Neha Khuteta, Mohammad Hussain and Satish Mishra, tried to contain the situation caused by Ali’s delayed diagnosis, another chain of infection had made its way to Rajasthan. Six women members of the Islamic missionary organisation Tablighi Jamaat were found to be staying at the homes of families and the men in mosques in Ramganj and had infected various people. Mass testing led to the discovery of more positive cases.
Dr Rauf, a respected and trusted doctor in Ramganj, has been the gentle voice of reason and persuasion for the area’s population of almost 400,000. “I am dealing with people who have no idea what quarantine is. They don’t fully understand why a person or an entire family that is asymptomatic has to be shifted to a strange location for 14-28 days,” says Dr Rauf. His main task, he adds, has been to stay calm and ensure cooperation from people who, afraid to be quarantined in a Covid facility, are putting locks on their doors while clearly still living in their homes and refusing to share even basic information about how many people they have been meeting or socialising with. Dr Rauf has also been performing checks of oxygen levels in those above the age of 60 or in those suffering from chronic illnesses as regular medical care has been put on pause across the country. Slowly, however, there has been acceptance. The good doctor and his team of cops are now greeted with smiles.