South Mumbai housing societies see surge in COVID-19 cases

Published : October 08, 2020 14:02 IST

At the promenade on Marine Drive in south Mumbai, on September 22. Photo: NIHARIKA KULKARNI/REUTERS

In September, when most of the restrictions of the lockdown were lifted, south Mumbai saw an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases. The war rooms of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) registered a 5 to 10 per cent increase in the number of sealed buildings located in areas that are considered among the city’s most privileged. By the first week of October more than 2,460 buildings were sealed, about 320 of them in the tony areas of Napean Sea Road, Marine Drive, Malabar Hill and Walkeshwar. The BMC banner proclaiming a building as having coronavirus cases is a common sight here.

The sudden surge of coronavirus cases in these areas is being attributed to domestic help. During the lockdown, daily visit helpers were obviously not allowed, with some buildings arranging for live-in helps for the entire society. However, between July and September buildings started allowing daily domestic helps. The decision was left to housing societies. Worried at the increase in cases, citizens have started pointing fingers at the authorities, saying the BMC lacks a clear policy on safety precautions prior to allowing domestic helps. This is an unfair allegation because the dos and don’ts have been adequately publicised by the municipal corporation.

Where the BMC has stumbled perhaps is in the criteria for sealing a building. Over the last three months the Standard Operating Procedures for sealing buildings have been changed thrice. A BMC official defended this and said the authorities were trying to work with citizens instead of imposing “top down authoritarian diktats”. He said that while the BMC had the right and the authority to seal a building, the right and authority to allow domestics rested with the building’s office-bearers and, consequently, it was their responsibility to verify the health status of the domestics.

While it is true that there is an increase in movement – whether domestic helps or others – and this has probably contributed to an increase in cases, one other thing has been conveniently swept under the carpet. Citizens on the whole have been irresponsible with respect to their own safety practices. What comes to mind immediately are the now infamous photos and videos of a few thousand walkers on Marine Drive after the restrictions on outdoor activities were lifted. At least a quarter of that walking, jogging populace — residents of Marine Drive, Cuffe Parade and the adjoining areas — were not masked. Pictures also emerged of policemen beseeching them to wear masks and maintain a distance from each other, but to no avail. Unfortunately, the constant need for police presence among walkers resulted in the local Marine Drive police station having the second highest number of fatalities of police personnel among all police stations in the city.

It also needs to be remembered that though the domestic help may be part of the spread of the virus, in the early days about five months ago, it was the privileged classes who, by international travel, helped in the spread of the virus. In fact, the daughter of one well-known writer and social commentator who lives at Cuffe Parade, returned on one of the last flights from London and, instead of self-quarantining as was the norm, chose to go on an evening walk in the garden of her housing complex. A few days later she tested positive and the entire building was sealed. It is examples like this that need to be remembered when the domestic help is held responsible for spreading the virus.