‘Ceasefire’, Noida’s own Covid-19 super spreader company - Hindustan Times
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‘Ceasefire’, Noida’s own Covid-19 super spreader company

Hindustan Times, Noida | BySanjeev K Jha, Noida
Apr 14, 2020 02:44 PM IST

The Noida-based company ‘Ceasefire’ was directly, and indirectly, responsible for a majority of Covid-19 positive cases in Gautam Budh Nagar, prompting the Uttar Pradesh government to declare 13 areas of the district as Covid-19 hot spots.

Contrary to its name and nature of work, a Sector 135-based security and fire safety solutions company ‘Ceasefire’ has put lakhs of residents of Gautam Budh Nagar at risk of contracting the deadly Covid-19 virus and offered no solution on how to make them safe.

Residents walk with masks on in Noida where 13 areas have been declared as Covid-19 hot spots. Majority of the cases in the Gautam Bhudh Nagar district can be traced back to the Sector-135-based security and fire safety solutions company called Ceasefire.(Sunil Ghosh / HT Photo)
Residents walk with masks on in Noida where 13 areas have been declared as Covid-19 hot spots. Majority of the cases in the Gautam Bhudh Nagar district can be traced back to the Sector-135-based security and fire safety solutions company called Ceasefire.(Sunil Ghosh / HT Photo)

After the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in south Delhi’s Nizamuddin, which accounted for 1,071 Covid-19 cases in Delhi -- about two-thirds of the total cases confirmed of 1,510 (till Monday) -- Ceasefire has emerged as the second biggest super-spreader in NCR.

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The company was directly, and indirectly, responsible for a majority of Covid-19 positive cases in Gautam Budh Nagar, prompting the Uttar Pradesh government to declare 13 areas of the district as Covid-19 hot spots.

Till Monday evening, of the 68 cases in the district, 41 have been linked to Ceasefire – about 64% of all cases – while another 13 cases have been found in other parts of India, taking the overall tally of Ceasefire-related cases to 54.

The nightmare started on March 16, after an auditor of the company complained about symptoms of Covid-19. The visiting auditor had come from the UK. The company’s managing director, too, had returned from the UK on March 1, while another employee had returned on March 7.

Shockingly, instead of being isolated by the administration, they themselves volunteered to go into quarantine, which they jumped soon after.

The MD is still at the isolation ward of a hospital, despite two of his reports coming negative for the disease as doctors believe he is an asymptomatic carrier of the virus.

“Nobody wants to spread a pandemic in society. The moment we noticed that our company has become the source of infection, we asked all employees to go into quarantine and take tests of Covid-19. But, we didn’t anticipate the speed of the spread and by the time things got worse, many lapses had happened on our part as well,” the MD said.

When asked why his company had concealed the travel history of its employees, he refused to answer.

According to the administration, all three persons jumped their quarantine and were attending office, consequently spreading the virus among other employees and then to their family members.

The district administration and the health department proved a colossal failure to check the spread of the disease in its nascent stages, with the result that the company and the cases it gave rise to became the root cause for the transfer of then district magistrate BN Singh and chief medical officer Dr Anurag Bhargava.

In a meeting with district officials on March 30, chief minister Yogi Adityanath expressed his displeasure with these officials for their inability to contain the surge in Covid-19 cases and divested them of their duties. While Bhargava refused comment on this, BN Singh said that he had done what “was deemed best at that time”.

The first thing that the new district magistrate Suhas LY did upon taking charge on March 31 was to seal the Ceasefire premises and sanitise it. But that was too little, too late.

The first Ceasefire employee had tested positive for Covid-19 on March 17 and by March 25, 12 employees were positive. But even then, no one from the health department or the district administration bothered to visit the company. Ceasefire employees said security guards were reporting for duty even after so many employees had tested positive.

Company officials claim that it had asked all its employees to stay at home after the first case was reported. But due to 21-day nationwide lockdown from March 25, instead of staying put at home, several of them went back to their respective hometowns.

A Ceasefire employee, preferring anonymity, said, “At first, I didn’t understand why the company asked us to remain on leave. I knew of their mischief only when my wife, mother and son tested positive for Covid-19. They are now in the isolation ward. But, since I am not positive for the disease, on the doctors’ opinion that I may be a carrier, I have put myself in quarantine,” he said.

When the state government found that the company had succeeded in giving the slip to the administrative and health authorities – by breaking the quarantine periphery – it asked the Noida police to step in for some fire fighting.

The Noida police collected employee details and started coordinating with the police in other districts from April 1.

Commissioner of police (CP) Alok Singh said it was really hard to reconnect the broken links. “There were many torn links in the case. The toughest task was to solve the matrix, to identify the super spreaders (person responsible for transmitting the disease to most others),” he said.

With the intervention of the Noida police, the administration was finally able to carry out contact tracing of infected persons and get a handle on consequent infections using comprehensive coding.

Sample this: Of the total 162 of employees at Ceasefire, 23 tested positive. “Ceasefire employees spread the virus to persons in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan, besides to many in districts of Meerut, Bulandshahr, Ghaziabad and Gautam Budh Nagar,” Singh said.

The police chief further said so far, the police have established telephonic conversations with over 1,200 B parties (contacts) of infected persons, living in different states and have also established direct or indirect contact with all employees of the company.

“All of them have been put under home quarantine and we are in regular touch with them. While 26 persons have been found to be primary infections, 28 others have been declared as secondary infections,” he said.

Explaining the coding process, Singh said employees of the company have been marked with abbreviated code of Ceasefire, i.e. CF-1, CF-2 and others. “For the B-parties – who were in contact with the employees – we have given codes like CF-1/1, CF-1/2 and so on. For the C-parties – who were not in the direct contact with the employees, but in the contact with B-parties, the code is like CF-1/1/1, CF-1/1/2 and so on. With these codes, we are now able to establish whether the new cases have any connection with the companies or not,” he said.

Singh further said that a similar sort of coding for everyone who lives or works in GB Nagar, is already on the cards, to trace out the cases systematically. “A complete database is a must to win this crisis. We are safe till we are able to trace out cases and their sources. The moment the tracing chain will be broken, our situation will be dire,” he said.

Dr Saurav Srivastava, the head of Covid-19 ward at the Government Institute of Medical Sciences (GIMS) in Greater Noida, also agrees that systematic contact tracing is a must.

“There is a hairline difference between an infected person and a carrier. It is not necessary that a carrier will always test positive for Covid-19,” he said.

In the context of Ceasefire-related cases, Dr Srivastava said it is still a mystery that two persons from the company, who are believed to be the key sources of infection, had tested negative in repeated tests.

“In cases of this nature, it is hard to identify the exact source. Strangely, four other Ceasefire employees were also found negative in tests, but 12 of their family members were found positive for Covid-19. As a doctor, I can’t rule out that they might have overcome the infection at an early stage – maybe due to a strong immunity,” he said.

Earlier, the Expressway police had lodged an FIR against Ceasefire under Section 45 (offences committed within India), 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and 270 (malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) of the Indian Penal Code.

The FIR was lodged on the orders of the chief medical officer for hiding the foreign travel history of a few employees.

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