Search for contacts

MORE THAN 1,000 SOUGHT

Queuing for vaccination in Cardiff  (Photo: (C) ITV Wales)

Back in Cardiff, the authorities realised they had a massive task on their hands: the potential number of contacts with Shuka Mia was huge. First there were the residents, customers and visitors at the Calcutta Restaurant – and their own subsequent contacts. Then there were all the passengers who had travelled from Birmingham on the train which brought the Pakistani to Wales. And beyond them, the passengers who had travelled in those same carriages on the five journeys the train made back and forth between Swansea and Birmingham before the alarm was raised and it was taken out of service to be fumigated. The local press reported that more than a thousand people were being sought. Among those traced and vaccinated were four men from Pontypridd and three others from Merthyr Tydfil who had been to the Calcutta Restaurant after a football match. [See Documents 5.001]

John Pathy in 2002 – photo: ITV Wales

Prof Pathy, who examined Shuka Mia, had a firm recollection that he told him a visitor from Rhondda had sat and chatted with him on the end of his bed in the flat above the café.  A document in a file, which was originally closed for 75 years, records a report that a girl from Tonteg had been in Shuka Mia’s room.  But Pathy also pointed out the difficulty of piecing together the exact account of his contacts which Shuka Mia gave, either at Lansdowne or Penrhys. Notes taken by the medical staff could not be removed from the room in which he was confined; they were burned, along with everything else, after the outbreak. This made Pathy sceptical about the precise accuracy of the account drawn up after the event: ‘The authorities did not have all the information … they had to do a bit of guesswork to find out how the secondary cases arose.’

‘Keep away from Cardiff!’

As the hunt for contacts began, people began to demand vaccination. By 17 January long queues had formed outside the clinics; newsreel from the time shows thousands standing in line: women with children and babies in prams, men (all wearing caps or hats) and clusters of boys in short trousers. In one area, things turned ugly; the police were called to disperse crowds ‘besieging’ a clinic in the east of the city when it was announced that only proven contacts would be vaccinated.

The press reported that a special watch was being kept on the Docks area, ‘where many Pakistanis live’. A week later, the Medical Officer of Health in neighbouring Monmouthshire advised people to keep away from Cardiff; in response, his opposite number in the city pointed out that not a single further case had come to light. On that day, 25th, a young woman who had visited the Calcutta Restaurant was taken to Lansdowne Hospital with suspected smallpox, only to be given the all-clear next day.

Dr John Pathy believed that those who had looked after Shuka Mia in Cardiff must have been immune to the disease.  It was a very virulent strain which could easily have spread via friends and family in the Butetown area.

Before the end of the month, the panic was over: Cardiff – and Wales – seemed to have emerged unscathed. For several weeks, life returned to normal.

>> Rhondda and the valleys

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