Manoj Ladwa, 54, born in Porbandar, Gujarat, who now lives in Staines in Britain, where he is director of a construction company, is now in a Covid ward at Seven Hills Hospital in Andheri, despite having initially told staff at Mumbai international airport he would not go there since he had no Covid symptoms and had tested negative before the flight.
According to Ladwa, the BMC staff refused to let him have a second PCR test carried out in front of him and after a nine-hour stand-off at the airport with 14 other passengers who tested positive from the same Virgin Atlantic flight, he was eventually taken there. His wife tested negative at the airport and went to the funeral alone.
The flight tickets for him and his wife cost £3,000 (approx Rs 3 lakh).
The BMC officials, on their part, said that they are following the Covid-19 testing norms as laid down by the state government and civic agency. As per the norms, passengers arriving from countries identified by the government as ‘at-risk’ such as those in Europe including the United Kingdom, are deboarded on priority to undergo RT-PCR test on arrival.
“If this sample is also positive then the collected sample for routine RT-PCR shall be sent immediately for genome sequencing and the passenger shall be directed for institutional quarantine. If sample is negative, the passenger shall be allowed to go home for mandatory home quarantine for a total period of 7 days. All symptomatic passengers testing positive at the airport are admitted at Seven Hills Hospital. Any such patient preferring admission in a private hospital can be transferred to Bombay Hospital or Breach Candy Hospital,” a BMC circular said.
When the airport authorities refused to carry out a second PCR test, Ladwa started an angry Facebook Live from the airport which has been seen by more than 10,000 people worldwide.
In the video he claims he has “magically tested positive” at Mumbai international airport and begs viewers to “speak to anyone they know who can help”. “This is a scam,” he declared. “My wife’s father died 24 hours ago and I am here to get to his funeral. They are denying me an independent test.”
Some viewers mistook him for Manoj Ladwa, former communications director for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who also lives in the UK. “It is not the first time I have been mixed up with him,” Ladwa said, speaking to TOI from the hospital ward.
“Nobody was prepared to be ferried off to an unknown quarantine hospital where they didn’t know what was going to happen and so we all took a stand and that is when people from BMC turned up and said they were going to raise a case against us, if we did not go into mandatory quarantine,” he said.
Ladwa and his wife Sharmili had departed Heathrow on December 29 to attend her father’s funeral in Borivali. Vasant Parikh, 87, had died of lung cancer on December 28. Ladwa booked flights the same day and they both had a PCR test before flying which was negative. The flight landed in Mumbai at 1.30am on December 30 and they had to get to Borivali by 8am for the funeral.
Ladwa said there was “mayhem” on arrival at the airport and the PCR tests were carried out in a corridor where other passengers were coming off planes.
“The desk where I had my test done had many other test kits on, there was no segregation and the previous person who left seconds before, their cotton bud was placed on top of mine, and then man doing the test, then moved it and picked mine up,” he said, claiming his test may have been cross-contaminated with Covid.
“I carried out a lateral flow test in front of officials at the airport which came out negative. I gave two to two passengers and they tested negative. I asked to have another an independent PCR test and they refused.” At 5am, he told his wife to go ahead to the funeral without him.
Now stuck in quarantine, he fears he will miss his return flight back booked on January 4 and has contacted his MP Kwasi Kwarteng asking for help.
“I have not shown any symptoms from the minute I got ready to board the plane,” he said, adding if he picks up Covid anywhere, it will be at the hospital he is in. “I would have liked the honour of being equivalent of pall bearer and getting my father-in-law prepared – none of that happened. This trip has been destroyed by this,” he said.