While the new policy would drastically increase the number of people being tested, BMC commissioner I S Chahal on Monday told his health staff and assistant municipal commissioners (ward officers) to not worry about the increasing number of Covid-19 cases as long as deaths could be prevented.
At the meeting, it was also decided to test and place people visiting local civic clinics with fever and other Covid-like symptoms in Covid care centres until their results are available a couple of days later.
Civic officials said that as thousands of quarantine beds have been set up in each ward, more slum-dwellers can be accommodated there as they cannot maintain physical distance in their cramped homes. The BMC has 25,000 beds in Covid care centres meant for untested asymptomatic people and another 35,000 quarantine beds in Covid care centre 2 meant for positive asymptomatic patients.
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Dr Shashank Joshi, a member of the state Covid task force, said, “This is the classical way to tackle an epidemic: Test, tract and isolate. It worked in Taiwan and China and should work here as well.” A public hospital doctor said the move would help decongest slums and thereby cut transmission chains. “If beds fall short in quarantine centres, we need to make more available,” he added.
The biggest worry, however, is to arrange medical staff to man these quarantine facilities. A ward officer admitted the workload of the local ward office would drastically increase as they have to arrange quarantine beds, gather health staff and provide food and other facilities for suspected patients. “But it will help to keep high-risk contacts away from the others and decongest slums, thereby checking the spread of the virus,” he added.
The city’s slums have now emerged as the biggest challenge as cases are rapidly multiplying there. The common toilet has emerged as the main source of transmission. “We clean toilets multiple times in a day to reduce the risk, but is now felt that shifting more high-risk contacts from the slums to quarantine facility would be the best way forward,” said an official. Of the 30,000 cases recorded in the city so far, 70% come from slum pockets. The wards with the biggest slum pockets-G-North (Dharavi) and F-North (Antop Hill)-lead in terms of numbers.
Meanwhile, Dharavi recorded 42 new cases on Monday, increasing the case tally in the area to 1,583. G-North ward, which also includes Mahim-Dadar, recorded a total of 2,173 cases of which 73 % are from Dharavi slums.