Dead man alive: Republic’s coverage of a coronavirus patient from MP gets several facts wrong

During an April 8 broadcast, in the usual Republic Bharat mannerism, channel anchors Shweta Shrivastav and Shweta Tripathi yelled a piece of ‘breaking news’ into television screens. As the camera shifted focus from Shrivastav on the top floor of the studio to Tripathi on the ground, viewers were told that eight family members associated with Tablighi Jamaat tested positive for coronavirus in Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone.

The anchors contacted channel correspondent Satyavijay for further details. He blamed Noor Mohammad for spreading the infection to his family and claimed that Mohammad had visited Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi after returning from a foreign trip. He subsequently came back to Khargone where he did not inform local authorities that he showed symptoms for COVID-19, added Satyavijay further stating that Noor Mohammad died on March 28. He also said that Mohammad’s mother passed away. “Jamaat is the root of coronavirus cases in Madhya Pradesh,” declared the channel correspondent adding, “Had Noor Mohammad informed on time, he would have perhaps been kept in isolation.”

Shrivatsav concurred with Satyavijay’s opinion and termed members of Tablighi Jamaat “shameless” – a word that was continually flashed on TV screens along with similar words such as ‘badtameez (ill-mannered)’, ‘behudi (stupidity)’ and ‘besharam jamaati (shameless jamaati)’.

ANI tweeted on the case on April 8. The news agency quoted Khargone district magistrate Gopal Chandra Dad as saying, “The attendee and his mother died due to the disease.”

FACT-CHECK

While Noor Mohammad indeed visited Nizamuddin Markaz after a foreign trip (South Africa) and later returned to Khargone, he is not dead. Alt News spoke with Mohammad who informed that he and his wife returned to Khargone on March 21 and his entire family was examined by district health officials in their residence on March 24. “I had an on-and-off fever since the day I began travelling back to MP from Delhi. I had informed the health officials about my trip to South Africa which they were already aware of since the local administration had kept a list of all people with a history of foreign travel.” None of the family members was admitted to the hospital at the time since they did not run a fever. “My fever wasn’t continuous and it used to act up at night. It is possible that my temperature was recorded normal as the health officials had visited during the day,” said Mohammad adding that he was advised to home-quarantine.

It is worthwhile to note that testing strategies have been evolving in the country as the disease is progressing. According to earlier guidelines by the Ministry of Health, testing was mostly limited to symptomatic people with a travel history or close contacts of positive cases. This explains why health officials were more concerned about Mohammad’s trip to South Africa. His visit to Nizamuddin was of little consequence on March 24 when the area was not identified as a hotspot.

On March 31, reports came pouring in about a cluster of cases from the Tablighi Jamaat event held last month. “I contacted the doctors again and told them that I’m coming down to the hospital with my wife,” said Mohammad. District Magistrate Gopal Chandra Dad also informed Alt News that Mohammad had visited the district hospital on March 31, after the news about Nizamuddin Markaz broke out. This is when the couple’s samples were collected and they were admitted to the hospital.

“Their results came out on April 4. Noor Mohammad tested positive while his wife tested negative,” informed Mohammad’s nephew Yasir Pathan.

Below is a circular by the district administration which was issued after Mohammad and another patient from Khargone, Lalit Patidar, was tested positive on April 4. The circular informs that both their residences are epicentres and areas within 3 km radium are to be regarded as containment areas.

On April 9, Mohammad’s nephew Pathan filed a complaint with Khargone police on Republic Bharat’s misreport that Mohammad had passed away due to the infection on March 28.

“Mohammad was transferred to Indore’s MRTB Hospital on April 4 where he was kept till April 11. He was discharged on April 12 after he tested negative twice,” said Pathan who sent us a video recorded by Mohammad from the hospital after he heard that rumours of his death were floating in the media.

Dainik Bhaskar had reported about Mohammad’s discharge on April 13. A video was recorded at the time of his discharge where Mohammad can be heard saying that he has fully recovered.

Seven recovered coronavirus patients were discharged from MRTB Hospital on April 12. Indore Commissioner posted about the recovery and also shared a photograph of the discharged patients. The man in a yellow kurta is Noor Mohammad.

It is noteworthy that eight members of Mohammad’s family had tested positive for coronavirus. Below is their test result which was released was April 7. Among them is Kharshid Bee, Mohammad’s 70-year-old mother, who passed away on April 4. Pathan said that she suffered a stroke at home. The same was reported by Dainik Bhaskar on April 5. However, DM Gopal Chandra Das said that the local administration is regarding her demise as a coronavirus death since she was tested positive after she passed away.

The broadcast that should have been

Noor Mohammad has been staying at the Khargone isolation ward since his discharge from MRTB Hospital, Indore. Mohammad told us that he landed in Delhi from South Africa on the morning of March 19. He claimed that he was asked to fill out two forms at Delhi airport which were essentially a questionnaire inquiring about his health. “The form had questions like ‘Do you have a fever?’, ‘Do you have a cough and cold?’ I was perfectly fine at the time so marked ‘no’ in all places. I wasn’t examined,” he said. When asked if he was advised home isolation at the airport he replied in the negative.

Mohammad and his wife left for Madhya Pradesh on March 20. They boarded a night train from Delhi and this was when he first began feeling sick. “I thought that it was perhaps because of the hectic journey. I took a tablet for fever,” Mohammad told us. The couple reached Indore at noon on March 21 and finally arrived at Khargone after a three-hour bus journey.

None of these essential details was a part of Republic Bharat’s broadcast.

The channel accused Mohammad of hiding his travel history to Nizamuddin and declared that he died on March 28. This itself is bizarre. Nizamuddin emerged as a coronavirus hotspot only on March 31.

Noor Mohammad’s story was grossly trivialised by Republic Bharat for mass consumption. We use the word ‘trivialised’ because the case was not given the needed coverage that could have helped local authorities in contact tracing.

According to Dainik BhaskarMohammad and his wife were on a religious tour since January. Their trip was planned before coronavirus was declared a crisis by the central government.

End January: Mohammad and his wife went to Mumbai to attend a Jamaat meet.

February: The couple left for a religious tour In South Africa for close to 45 days.

March 19: Noor Mohammad and his wife travel from South Africa to Delhi.

March 20: The couple spend the day in Delhi where they visit Nizamuddin Markaz and board a train to Indore at night. Mohammed informed us that he had started feeling under the weather during the journey.

March 21: They reach Indore at noon and take a three-hour bus to Khargone.

March 22: Mohammad was experiencing an on-and-off fever. His nephew Yasir Pathan told us that Mohammad also had a slight cough. Mohammad visited a general physician who gave him medicines for fever.

March 24: Health officials visited Mohammad’s residence. The entire family’s temperature was checked and none of them had a fever. Mohammad was asked to self-quarantine.

March 31: Upon hearing the news of Nizamuddin recognised as a COVID-19 hotspot, Mohammad and his wife visited the district hospital where their samples were collected and they were admitted.

April 4: Mohammad tested positive for coronavirus while his wife tested negative. Mohammad was transferred to MRTB Hospital, Indore. The same day his mother died of a stroke.

April 7: Eight family members including Mohammad’s mother test positive for coronavirus.

April 12: Mohammad was discharged from MRTB Hospital after testing negative twice.

April 13: He has since been quarantined at the Khargon district hospital.

Conclusion

Republic Bharat’s broadcast was erroneous (to put it lightly) on multiple counts. The channel first claimed that Noor Mohammad died which is obviously untrue because we spoke with him on the phone. It further said that Mohammad concealed his travel history. This too is false. When Mohammad landed at Delhi international airport, he filled out a self-declaration form. Alt News verified the questions in the form as mentioned by Mohammad with copies of the form uploaded online by others. Mohammad was not screened at the airport because he did not show symptoms for coronavirus. After returning to Khargone, Mohammad and his entire family were examined by medical officers on March 24. The officers visited his residence because they were aware of his foreign trip. No one from the family was admitted, including Mohammad’s parents aged 70 plus, as their temperatures were normal. On March 31, when Nizamuddin was identified as a COVID-19 hotspot, Mohammad and his wife went to the district hospital where their samples were collected and they were admitted. None of the other family members was given a test. On April 4, Mohammad tested positive and his wife tested negative. Mohammad was shifted to Indore. His elderly mother passed away the same day. Samples of eight family members, including the mother, were subsequently collected. On April 7, all of them tested positive.

Mohammad followed all the required protocol – self-declaration at the airport, cooperation with medical workers during the home visit and declaration of his visit to the Markaz after it emerged as a hotspot. Who should be truly blamed then?

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