Poland is checking to see if it has its first confirmed case of the Indian variant of the coronavirus following reports that a Catholic nun returning from India tested positive for the virus and possibly caused the infection of dozens of others.
Three Missionaries of Charity convents in Warsaw and Katowice have now reported mass outbreaks among nuns and homeless people cared for by the religious congregation, which was founded by Mother Teresa in 1950. One nun in Katowice is confirmed to have died, reports state broadcaster TVP.
The outbreak reportedly began after a nun from the Missionaries of Charity tested positive for the virus following her return from India. Infections were then reported among nuns at her convent in Warsaw and another in nearby Zaborów.
“A total of 23 people are sick [and] 26 are in quarantine,” Joanna Narożniak, spokeswoman for the sanitary inspectorate in Mazovia Province, where Warsaw is located, told Gazeta Wyborcza.
The nun also came into contact with a sister from a Missionaries of Charity convent in Katowice, who subsequently also fell ill. The Katowice convent has since reported 26 cases of coronavirus, with 17 nuns and 10 homeless people who attended the soup kitchen at the convent testing positive.
One of those nuns, who is reportedly Hungarian, subsequently died on 30 April. The others are reported to be in good health. Efforts are now ongoing to trace further homeless people who may have come into contact with any of the infected nuns.
However, Grzegorz Hudzik, sanitary inspector for the Silesia Province where Katowice is located, told Polsat News that “the risk of transmission is negligible” because the nuns wore face-masks and gloves while serving meals.
The Warsaw and Katowice convents have been closed, with the latter quarantined until 9th May and being guarded by police.
Sanitary inspectorates in Warsaw and Katowice are now sequencing samples of the virus to test whether the so-called Indian variant, which was first identified in December and is being treated by the World Health Organisation as a “variant of interest”, is present.
“We are waiting for the results of these tests – only after obtaining them will we be sure whether it is the Indian variant or not,” said Hudzik, quoted by Gazeta.pl.
On Friday, deputy health minister Waldemar Kraska told Radio Zet that there are so far no confirmed cases of the Indian variant in Poland. The ministry’s spokesman, Wojciech Andrusiewicz, noted that all arrivals in Poland from outside the EU must enter obligatory quarantine, from which they can be released with a negative test.
Andrusiewicz added that, although there are currently no direct flights to Poland from India, even arrivals from other EU countries must present a negative test result or be quarantined. It is not know when and how the nun from India entered Poland and what form of quarantine, if any, she underwent.