Indore has emerged as the epicentre of covid-19 in Madhya Pradesh bang in the middle of a change in administration. The latest numbers aren’t good: 10 people have died in the city because of coronavirus and 135 positive cases have been reported and officials say that the number of cases might rise. Two people have died in the past 48 hours.
The city is a major transit corridor, with at least 70 flights touching Indore’s airstrip daily. What is disturbing is that health officials and workers were unable to identify the source of the infection. Many of those who have tested positive don’t have international travel history, said an official on condition of anonymity.
That’s why the entire focus of the administration now is to contain the spread of the disease by ensuring that people comply with all restrictions.
“That’s why lockdown restrictions have been followed by curfew restrictions. During relaxation hours, too, we have imposed certain restrictions to prevent people from gathering at any particular place," said Indore divisional commissioner Akash Tripathi.
The rising number of covid-19 cases could not have come at a worse time for the district administration. The collector and chief of police were replaced after the Bharatiya Janata Party government led by chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan took charge on 23 March, a day ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 21-day lockdown announcement. Four-days later, transfer orders were issued for Indore collector Lokesh Jatav and deputy inspector general of police Ruchivardhan Misr. Jatav was replaced by Manish Singh and Misr by H.N. Mishra.
Crucial time to tackle the outbreak was lost because of the change in administration. As it is, the then incumbent health minister Tulsiram Silwat was among 22 Congress MLAs who had raised a banner of revolt against then chief minister Kamal Nath and subsequently quit.
“When everything should be on standstill, one thing continues to move (in the state)—transfers," alleged Congress spokesperson Narendra Saluja.
Amid this political drama, the mechanism to combat the virus, plan to establish labs for testing samples and create isolation wards in hospitals for suspected coronavirus people remained untouched. This allowed cases to spread in Indore, a city where more than half of the population are poor and live in dense quarters.
There was also a lack of communication. “There were several areas in Indore where people knew nothing about the pandemic," according to Javed Alam, a city-based journalist.
Fake messages widely circulated on social media did not help matters. “Many are daily wage workers. They are simply unaware of the symptoms and precautionary measures to be followed in preventing the spread of the pandemic," says Samad, who runs a cloth store in Tatpatti Bakhal, one of the most highly-populated areas of the city.
It was in this locality that stones were pelted at a team of health officials and workers who went into the area to screen suspected coronavirus cases. “This was not our first visit to the place," said Dr Trupti Katdare, who was among those who had been attacked. The police came in the nick of time and rescued them.
The state government has taken strict action and has arrested several people in connection with this attack. The team did not face any problem when it visited the area again, but the negative publicity about the area has left a bad taste.
Anup Dutta is a freelance journalist based in Indore.