Army’s Jaisalmer experience says COVID-19 may activate in bodies even after 14 days

A number of evacuees flown in from Iran have tested positive even after 14 days of quarantine. This has perplexed the armed forces

Army Wellness Centre in the historical desert city of Jaisalmer (Photo Courtesy: Twitte/ANI)
Army Wellness Centre in the historical desert city of Jaisalmer (Photo Courtesy: Twitte/ANI)

Prakash Bhandari

The Army Wellness Centre in the historical desert city of Jaisalmer which has world-class facilities is struggling with about 500 evacuees who have been brought to the Jaisalment facility by a special Air India flight. The facility has a capacity of 500 and its almost full after three flights from Iran brought men, women and children.

The first batch of 230 evacuees from Iran, who are all employees working in different parts of Iran, were first examined in Iran for Coronavirus and then they were allowed to board the two Air India flights that brought them to Jaisalmer. Immediately on arrival, on March 15 they were, tested again and were found to be negative. In total, 484 were tested and were found to be negative But after the 14 days of quarantine got over in Jaisalmer, when they were examined, nine of them were found to be positive. More testing followed and nine more positives were detected. This surprised the Army team of doctors and the paramedical staff who were hoping that they would again be tested negative.

But on Friday when further tests were performed, three more were found to be positive.

“We have followed the drill, but it seems the persons who have tested negatives at the initial stage had taken more than 14 days to activate the virus in their bodies.This was perplexing and it goes to prove that the virus could still be active even after 14 days of strict quarantine. They have all been transferred to Jodhpur’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) for treatment. This is an alarming situation as those proved positive are all above 55 years of age which has forced us to put all the remaining persons who tested negatives back into quarantine and they would be subjected to further tests. This would obviously delay their discharge and we would do the rigorous tests once against to ascertain that there are no more positive cases.

Similarly, seven more persons have tested positive at the Jodhpur Army Wellness facility and they too have been admitted in the AIIMS, Jodhpur for treatment,” said an Army official in Jaisalmer.

Apart from the Jaisalmer facility, all the evacuees from Iran that include 53 students who have been kept at the Jodhpur military wellness facility will be tested again even after the expiry of the mandatory 14 days’ quarantine date to make sure that they are negative as the experience of both Jaisalmer and Jodhpur suggest that the virus could be active even after 14 days.

Indian military establishments are running isolation and wellness centres across the country, hosting groups of Indians brought back from COVID-19 hotspots such as Iran. These facilities would be extended further as more people from Ireland, France and Germany are being evacuated and are expected to be flown to India by Air India flights.

Once the process of further tests is over, the Army will have to decide about the modalities of discharging the negative persons as they come from different parts of the country. With train and flight services discontinued, these evacuees will have to be taken to their homes.

Instructions have also been issued to the Indian Army’s 62 Cantonment Boards in 19 states and Union Territories “to identify beds in hospitals or health centres and guest houses for any eventuality," a defence ministry official said.

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