Doctors of Indian Medical Association conducted door to door screening camp, following Covid-19 pandemic at Dharavi in Mumbai. (Anshuman Poyrekar/HT Photo)
Dharavi reported 15 new coronavirus disease cases taking the tally to 43 so far on Sunday, 12 days after Asia’s biggest slum cluster in Mumbai saw the first patient of Covid-19.
Among the 15 new cases in this slum pocket are nine contacts of a victim who succumbed to Covid-19 earlier and now the authorities have taken up a full-scale investigation of those who fall under the high-risk category.
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An 80-year-old man died at Kasturba Hospital on Saturday taking the death toll in the slum area to four. His 35-year-old daughter, too, had tested positive for Covid-19.
Police, civic, and health authorities are working non-stop to implement the lockdown in the area housing nearly 800,000 people.
What are the concerns?
Short on space and basic amenities, residents of Dharavi are all the more vulnerable. The 240-hectare slum pocket has 850,000 residents and a population density of 66,000 per square kilometre, making it one of the most congested spaces in Mumbai.
The Union health ministry on Tuesday cited an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) study that claims one Covid-19 patient can infect 406 people in 30 days if preventive measures such as lockdown and social distancing are not implemented.
Activists and health workers have raised concerns over how social distancing is practically impossible in an area where an average of 10-12 people live in each of the 57,000 housing units measuring around 250 sqft.
They have said social distancing and self-isolation are hardly possible in slums where an average family has four to five people living in one room. Self-isolation is hardly possible.
Lack of amenities, such as potable water and toilet facilities, also force these people to break the social distancing protocol.
What are experts saying?
They have said there is a need to revisit how social distancing is being imposed in slum clusters like Dharavi during the ongoing lockdown.
Amitabh Kundu, a distinguished fellow at the New Delhi-based think tank Research and Information System for Developing Countries, said the lockdown has been largely successful in urban areas, among the middle and the upper classes because of a lot of social vigilantism, but the same cannot be said for those living in slum clusters or in areas inhabited by lower-income groups.
“Residents’ welfare associations are taking extra care; there is limited entry of people, quarantine notices were put up on houses with members having travel history and effective monitoring is being done, often at the irritation and violation of the privacy of the affected households. But we are really worried that the hotspots should not extend to the rural areas, low-income areas and slums in towns and cities,” he said.
Kundu said the concept of social distancing is difficult in lower-income groups because of the lockdown since most of them spend more time in confined spaces.
“As per Census 2011, about 25% of the people living in urban slums still have to go out for toilet and drinking water; for them, the lockdown means standing in long queues (where social distancing is not possible). About 45% of these people are workers mostly employed in the informal sector. They are not allowed to go out unless they are part of the essential services,” he said.
Manoj Misra, head of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, a non-government organisation that works for the revival of the Yamuna, pointed out that the sense of hygiene maintenance in India is already compromised.
“For people in slums, access to space, safe water and privacy is a daily struggle that has been heightened by the lockdown, so the immediate steps that can be taken now are focusing on the most susceptible in this group, those above 60,” Misra said.
What are authorities doing?
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) started screening around 700,000 residents of the cramped slum cluster of Dharavi on Saturday—an exercise that is expected to take around two weeks to complete.
Door-to-door screening of people living in Dharavi is being done by a team of 150 doctors from Maharashtra Medical Association and other BMC workers.
“We have formed 10 teams to conduct screening of all residents in Dharavi. We are using 500 sets of personal protection equipment (PPE), 2,000 masks, and 18 thermal scanners for this purpose. Screenings are being done at Kalyanwadi, Mukund Nagar, Social Nagar, Muslim Nagar, Madina Nagar, etc,” Kiran Dighavkar, assistant municipal commissioner, G/North ward under which Dharavi is located, said.
Mumbai Police on Sunday barricaded the Dharavi and deployed personnel in the area to keep a watch on the movement of people.
The civic body has already planned a 1000-bed quarantine facility in Dharavi, where those wanting institutional quarantine will be kept. Of these, 300 beds will be available at the Rajiv Gandhi District Sports Club and the remaining 700 are being planned at the Dharavi transit camp municipal school.
Dharavi has around 225 public or community toilets that are also being disinfected daily for which a special treatment solution and machine has been imported from New Zealand.
Mumbai council spokesman Vijay Khabale-Patil said Sunday testing sites have also been set up in recent days to pick up on asymptomatic carriers of the virus, adding that “as a result, more positive cases have emerged”.
“We have been running extensive medical camps in Dharavi and other areas of Mumbai to test more people for coronavirus and make sure carriers are not ignored just because they don’t display symptoms,” he said while speaking to wire agency AFP.
All shops, except pharmacies, near so-called “containment zones” in Dharavi has been closed from Friday to limit the number of people in public spaces.
(With agency inputs)