Dharavi a big worry for Maharashtra in battle against COVID-19

Published : April 09, 2020 13:05 IST

A view of Dr Baliga Nagar at Dharavi in Mumbai, on April 4. Dr Baliga Nagar has been declared a containment area after three persons here tested positive for coronavirus. Photo: PTI

April 8 marked four weeks of the first case of COVID-19 being detected in Maharashtra. The date also saw a new level being reached in the State’s fight against the coronavirus. That story began on April 2 when a man tested positive in Mumbai’s Dharavi slums, a community of about eight lakh people. Worse, the patient was known to have returned from the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi. The blame game began as a whisper campaign, but before it could escalate into anything worse, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar put out an official statement which said that if people defied the lockdown they would be jailed. Without throwing down the gauntlet, the government was able to get out of a sticky situation that might have taken attention away from a government that feels things are spinning out of its control.

But the whispers continued until Sharad Pawar hit back on April 8. He said the Tablighi Jamaat had applied for permission to have their religious gathering in Vasai near Mumbai on March 14 and 15 but were denied permission. He asked why the Delhi government had granted it. He went on to say that the gathering was in the neighbourhood of the Nizamuddin Police Station and the police could have intervened but did not.

The Nationalist Congress Party chief’s public queries received no answer so he took it to the next level. Anil Deshmukh of the NCP, who is Cabinet Minister for Home, wrote a letter to the Union Home Ministry asking the same points with more details. He asked: Why was there need for National Security Adviser Ajit Doval to go to the congregation at 2 a.m.? What transpired between him and the Tablighi Jamaat chief Maulana Muhammad Saad Kandhlawi? Why did the maulana disappear and where is he currently?

Deshmukh also hit out at the Union Home Minister suggesting that perhaps he was responsible for the spread of the virus because he did nothing to stop the large gathering.

The Shiv Sena newspaper Saamna took a similar stand to the Centre’s barbed attempts at spreading communal hatred. In its usual unbridled style, Saamna said either the Prime Minister was unable to communicate with citizens or he really did believe that this crisis required a festive atmosphere, a reference to the gimmicks of clapping, banging of vessels and lighting of candles. In a clear reference to the recent religious gathering in Uttar Pradesh attended by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the editorial pointedly asks, “Are those who are blaming the Markaz for the spread of the coronavirus themselves maintaining the discipline and social distancing they advocate?’

Masks mandatory

On April 8, Mumbai Municipal Commissioner Praveen Pardeshi made masks mandatory in public. “I have come to the conclusion that in the larger public interest, making wearing of mask by any person moving in any public place is necessary,” he said. “Anybody violating these instructions will be punishable under Section 188 of Indian Penal Code (48 of 1010),” he said.

The day also saw Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray stepping up services with the launch of “fever clinics”. He said, "We are now starting fever clinics. So, if you have symptoms, don’t go to a regular hospital, go to these fever clinics. We are setting up three different facilities—for mild, moderate and serious symptoms. The only reason we are making these distinctions is because we don’t want the virus to spread.”

Offering further succour to the poor, he said, “We have already introduced Shiv Bhojan scheme even for those who do not have ration cards. If more such people need it, I am willing to increase that number too. We are providing 15 lakh meals on a daily basis and this is being done for all, whether they are from here or migrants.” The thali price was reduced to Rs.5 from Rs.10.

As of April 8 there are 1,135 positive cases in the State and 72 deaths. Thackeray said the increasing numbers were a worry, but reemphasised that testing was the solution to ending the crisis. Door-to-door testing has begun and the State has introduced rapid testing in areas that have been contained. In Mumbai’s Worli Koliwada area that was sealed on March 31, personnel will go door to door and test people using a rapid testing kit. Those with positive results will be taken to the nearby National Sports Club of India, where the Dome, a massive entertainment and sports facility, has been converted into a vast isolation ward. The Holy Family Hospital in Bandra, Mumbai, has also been turned into a quarantine centre.

On the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), he said, “PPE shortage is a universal phenomenon. Even America is asking India for medicines. Indian companies have started manufacturing ventilators, which was not their primary business. I am looking over the progress every day and ensuring that we increase the stock and production to meet the demand of the people.”

Earlier, the Municipal Commissioner had said there were adequate number of testing kits but not enough personnel. Thackeray appealed to retired health care services providers to volunteer their services. While it cannot be said that the State government is ahead of the situation,

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