MUMBAI: Maharashtra has been the worst-affected state by coronavirus (covid-19), with Mumbai alone reporting 377 cases and 22 deaths as of Saturday. Even as the number of coronavirus cases continues to surge, Mumbai's municipal commissioner Praveen Pardeshi said the financial capital has conducted 10,000 tests till date and there is no shortage of testing kits.
In an interview with Mint, Pardeshi said the rise in the number of cases was directly proportional to the high level of testing in the city, as authorities identified positive cases at an early stage, thereby, reducing the chances of community transmission. Edited excerpts:
How do you explain the spurt in covid-19 cases in Mumbai?
So far, we have conducted 10,000 covid-19 tests and are doing roughly 1,200-1,300 tests per day. Testing in Mumbai is much higher than in the other parts of the country, such as Delhi, which has conducted 3,100 tests till date, Haryana has done 800 tests, Assam has done 700 tests and Karnataka, which has several international travellers, has done just 4,200 tests since the beginning of March.
Even in the rest of Maharashtra, other than Mumbai, about 1,400 tests have been conducted till now. So, for a population of nearly 12 million people in Mumbai, we have really aggressively conducted covid-19 tests, and the rapid rise in the number of cases is in direct proportion to the increase in the level of testing. We are extracting more and more cases before the 14-day cycle of the virus so that these numbers don’t burst into community spread.
How do you plan to scale up covid-19 testing further?
We have ramped up capacity at the two municipal testing laboratories in Kasturba Hospital and KEM Hospital, which can together test up to 400 patients in a day. It was at our request that private labs were also permitted to test patients and we are now conducting about 700-800 tests at people’s homes, as we do not want suspected cases of covid-19 to crowd the hospitals and infect others. We have started a helpline that makes direct calls to those who have come in contact with any covid-19 patient or have recently travelled abroad. Further, we have identified areas with high number of covid-19 cases and divided them into containment areas to target coronavirus hotspots. From there, we are collecting samples from high-risk families and those are also being tested. We just got one million testing kits from Qatar, so the availability of testing kits is not a constraint, but we are facing some issues in increasing our testing capacity as we need more manpower to collect samples and test them.
What are the measures being taken to curb the spread of coronavirus in Dharavi?
We have increased testing in Dharavi, and I am sure the spread will be curbed as those with symptoms or contact history are being traced and isolated in the initial stages. We have also identified a building and sealed it. We have extracted the people who were in close contact with the covid-19 infected patients and have put them in isolation and quarantine wards, with the police and our staff monitoring them daily. Similarly, there are 190 other buildings sealed across Mumbai. We have also started fever clinics across such covid-19 clusters, where we identify those with cough and cold symptoms and test their temperature, so that they can be removed from the community. Further, we are making sure people stay indoors and are supplying all essential items like food and grocery to their doorsteps. But we will just have to wait and watch how the situation develops in Dharavi.
How are you tackling the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers and doctors?
The Maharashtra chief minister (Uddhav Thackeray) has asked big manufacturers such as Tata, Reliance and Raymond to ramp up production capacity to two lakh PPE per day. Production by the government will also start in a month’s time. Until then, we have to procure PPE from elsewhere. So, there is definitely a shortage of PPE right now and it is a matter of concern for us and the doctors. But in the next two days, I would have another 30,000 PPE, which will take care of my requirement for the next ten days. Right now, our PPE requirement for just the municipal hospitals is about 1,000 PPE per day.
How do you plan to ramp up the number of isolation and quarantine centres in Mumbai?
We have a quarantine capacity of nearly 642 beds, of which more than three quarters are in municipality hospitals and the remaining are with private hospitals. For quarantine facilities we have reached 81% of our capacity, as of 2 April. Similarly, we have 2,181 isolation beds available across the city, of which nearly 60% are provided by the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation). For isolation beds, we have utilised 69% of our capacity. We are planning to ramp up the isolation bed capacity by another 1,000, but the quarantine bed capacity will increase by 10,000 as we have taken over all the smaller lodges and hostels that are empty now. Additionally, real estate developers have also offered some vacant properties, but we haven’t utilised them yet.
How is BMC helping in improving the supply of essentials?
We have a complete grocery supply network, and have partnered with 278 online retailers for home delivery. So far, we have made 47,000 food deliveries, 6,154 grocery deliveries, 60,000 dairy and 487 deliveries of fruits and vegetables to people’s homes. Further, we are also monitoring the total supplies going through Zomato, Big Bazaar and other such online retailers. We also have a mobile app, which enables the grocery stores to source supplies from these large format sellers.
How is BMC managing to keep its workforce motivated and mobile?
We had a huge problem because of the stoppage of local trains, as many of our doctors who came from faraway locations had to spend 2-3 hours on travel, while working under stressful conditions. But the Taj Group is now offering accommodation and food packets to 1,200 of our doctors, who are now lodging in hotels around the municipal hospitals. Further, our staff has been given gloves and masks. They are being provided one meal during work that we are sourcing from different caterers across the city. Thirdly, we are giving an allowance of ₹300 per day to all the frontline workers.
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