How a small town in Mardan was sealed for three weeks to save its population
Manga, a small town in Mardan district with a population of around 56,000, remained completely sealed for around three weeks after the death of a local, a Covid-19 patient. But in its misery also lies a success in the fight against the pandemic.
The union council located on the border with Charsadda has remained the focus of the government and officials since March 18, when a local who had returned from Umrah died due to the virus. Since the deceased had met hundreds of people during the nine days after his return from Saudi Arabia, there were concerns that he could turn out to be Pakistan’s Patient 31 – a term coined to identify a patient in South Korea thought to be responsible for the rapid rise in the number of people infected.
“Things worsened suddenly when a local from Manga was declared coronavirus-positive by the NIH on March 18. He died the same afternoon,” recalls Abid Wazir, the Mardan deputy commissioner. “It was a huge challenge for the health and administrative systems. He had returned from Umrah nine days aso. This meant that hundreds of others coming from Saudi Arabia needed to be tested and treated as well.”
The authorities arranged for the burial as per safety protocols. Wazir says they sought the help of religious scholars to convince the family for a burial with only a few people attending the funeral and, that too, while keeping a safe distance.
The challenge before the district authorities was huge. “Up to 2,000 people had met him on his return from Umrah. This is apart from the people he interacted with during the nine days prior to his death. The fear was dissemination of the virus. So, the immediate response was locking down the entire union council.” The locking down started soon after the burial (at one in the morning on March 18), and was completed by the morning of March 19.
Sajjad Khan, Mardan’s district police officer, tells The News on Sunday that over 250 policemen were deployed under the supervision of two deputy superintendents of police and four station house officers to ensure a complete lock down, which started on March 19 and continued till the area was de-sealed in the second week of April. “Policemen remained deployed in the union council in three shifts. They were provided PPEs, masks, sanitisers and food since they were stationed at a local police post so that they did not interact with other policemen.”
During the initial days of the lockdown in Manga, a large number of people from the area tested positive. They had all interacted with the deceased or the people with whom he is thought to have met. Abdul Salam Afridi, a local MPA, Waqar Kharal, the Mardan Additional SP, and Mohsin Javed, an inspector, were among those who tested positive.
After the lockdown, another challenge for the officials was tracking close contacts of the deceased, and screen and quarantine them. The rural health centre in Manga was designated as a screening point where screening started on March 19 by a team of 12 doctors.
As many as 643 villagers have so far been screened. Close contacts of three individuals, including the deceased, who returned from Umrah, and 12 others were shifted to the Mardan Medical Complex for screening after which they were quarantined at a hostel in Abdul Wali Khan (AWK) University.
Officials say quarantining was not easy. Many of the close contacts protested the restrictions and fled. Later, a 22-member committee consisting of prayer leaders of 11 mosques of the village, political leaders and social workers was constituted to persuade them to return to the quarantine centre.
A three-tier quarantine system was developed. Manga village itself turned into a large quarantine facility where no one was allowed to come in or go out. In the second tier, cases with symptoms were shifted to the quarantine centre in the AWK University. Covid-positive cases were referred to isolation wards in the district hospital or to the High Dependency Unit in the Mardan Medical Complex depending on their condition.
To ensure the supply of essential food items for the people of Manga, the local administration approached the Mardan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. A mechanism was developed after consulting 32 retailers and wholesale dealers. The additional deputy commissioner was made the focal person. A 22-member liaison committee was also formed.
Representatives of the Manga village would prepare lists of items, which would be provided by designated dealers in Mardan twice a week through trucks at the Manga Chowki (a station point of the UC). Drivers wearing PPEs would handover the items to local representatives. Later, the trucks would be sanitised before exiting the area.
The lockdown worked. Several villages of the UC were de-sealed on April 5 after 109 samples collected from the area tested negative. The remaining areas were de-sealed a couple of days later. Only a few streets, where the houses of the deceased and those who returned from Umrah are located, remain sealed. People there are to remain quarantined in their homes till they test negative.