Mumbai prepares for a massive jump in COVID cases

Published : May 07, 2020 18:55 IST

A 1,000-bed isolation facility for COVID-19 patients coming up at the Bandra Kurla Complex exhibition ground in Mumbai, on May 7. Photo: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

A study by the Centre had projected that Mumbai would have 75,000 coronavirus positive cases by the end of May. While the State government has not commented on that nor has it declared any projections or doubling models, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) own preparations seem to indicate that the city’s administrators are preparing for an exponential growth in cases.

On May 4, the 40th day of the lockdown, the BMC had the following plan to care for future COVID-19 cases: set up isolation facilities. For this purpose it has gone on a space acquisition spree, mostly on the vast grounds of the city’s landmarks. A 200-bed isolation facility is to be built in the parking lot of the Mahalaxmi racecourse; the Nehru planetarium and Nehru Science Centre will get 200 and 100 beds respectively; the long-defunct Richardson and Cruddas factory on Mohammed Ali road adjacent to JJ hospital will have a 200-bed isolation facility; the Mahim Nature Park that is alongside the Mithi river and borders the Dharavi slum will get 600 beds; and the gigantic MMRDA grounds which normally hosts trade fairs and rallies is due to get a 500 bed isolation facility.

The Manohar Joshi School in Dharavi has also been acquired for a 600-bed isolation centre for high-risk contacts. The Dome, a sports and entertainment facility at the National Sports Club of India, is already in operation with an outpatient department. Thirty portable ICU beds with ventilators will be added to make the Dome a COVID-19 hospital.

The number of positive cases in the State crossed 12,000 on May 6. With the steep rise the BMC has marked containment zones or no-go zones in the city. More than 1,500 areas in the city have been sealed as red zones and curfew conditions apply within them. While there is no order as yet there is an understanding that the lockdown all over the city may be made stricter.

Of the 75,000 cases that had been projected by the Centre, 84 per cent (that is, 63,000 cases) are expected to be asymptomatic. While the BMC’s preparations are geared towards this 84 per cent projection, two things remain unexplained— how will these asymptomatic cases be identified and where are the adequate number of health care workers to staff these facilities.

Caught in a bind

The BMC is also in the unenviable position of having to balance the call, from restive citizens and businesses, for an easing of the lockdown with the need to keep the city safe. Those who want the city to open up argue that cases are going up anyway. The BMC replies that the numbers are being kept in check because of the lockdown. The State decided to ease up a bit and for some inexplicable reason decided to start with opening up liquor shops. The expected chaos happened and the shops were closed. But not before sales worth Rs.62 crore were made. The State earned Rs.30 crore from that in excise duty.

The State withdrew orders for a staggered opening up, but the day after shutting the liquor shops the BMC Commissioner issued a notice saying hardware and electrical shops could open but only one per street. Such ill thought out orders are not gaining the confidence of the citizenry. Currently Section 144 of the CrPC is in operation in the city and is applicable from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. Only essential services and emergency movement is permitted.

But more order seems to reign within the Municipal Corporation. Praveen Pardeshi, the Commissioner, has demanded hundred per cent attendance of his staff. While there are some relaxations for those above 55 years of age, they too have to attend office. But those in the corporation’s medical department, including doctors, nursing staff and paramedics over the age of 55 years with co-morbidities, have been told to stay home for two weeks.

To aid full attendance, Pardeshi asked all hotels to house civic employees in their jurisdiction. The Taj group made an unconditional offer saying the civic employees could stay in all their hotels (the group had earlier done this for BMC doctors), but the BMC has said it will reimburse the hotels albeit on a lower scale than their regular rates.