Mumbai

Aaditya Thackeray: Only way to save lives is to test as many people as we can

Taking action: Aaditya Thackeray has been closely monitoring efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Worli.

Taking action: Aaditya Thackeray has been closely monitoring efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Worli.   | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

Cabinet Minister and Worli MLA says the next 10 days are crucial in the fight against COVID-19, urges people to stay indoors

With more novel coronavirus cases than in any other ward in Mumbai, G South, which comprises areas such as Worli, Lower Parel and Prabhadevi, is the city’s largest COVID-19 hotspot. On April 4, the ward reported 58 positive cases. The next day, the number rose to 68. On April 6, the tally touched 78. And on Wednesday, it recorded 133 cases. In less than a week, the ward has witnessed the highest number of cases. It is more than double the 59 cases recorded in Byculla, which comes under E ward and has the second-highest number of cases. The Hindu spoke to Environment and Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray, who is the MLA from Worli and has been closely monitoring efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 in his constituency.

The number of positive cases in G South ward has now risen to 133.

The numbers will increase in G South and that’s not essentially a bad thing. The stage that we are in right now — week four — is where the cases will increase rapidly. Till Tuesday, 76% of cases in Maharashtra were asymptomatic. This means the cases we [G South] are witnessing are asymptomatic. That is why the numbers are higher. People don’t know they have the virus [until we have tested them]. We will follow the G South model in Dharavi also. We had identified two index patients in Worli Koliwada, the number then increased to 24 not because the other 22 showed symptoms but because we could contact trace them, test them and isolate them. That is why in the last 48 hours, the number of positive cases in Worli Koliwada, Adarsh Nagar and Janata Colony have gone down. We are testing people even though they are not showing symptoms of coronavirus. In Jijamata Nagar, the samples of 30 people were sent for testing [their reports are awaited] even though they did not have symptoms because they were in the vicinity or in contact with the index patients. Our index cases are between 11 and 15. Those placed in quarantine at Poddar Hospital and Visava Rest House at Worli had some objections [as they didn’t have symptoms]. That is something we also didn’t want to do. So we decided to test them before putting them in quarantine. We then found 14 or 20 of them were positive. Even if the numbers go up, we have to contain carriers of the virus. People may have a dormant virus, which may go away, get transferred or become active. Right now, the only way to save lives is to test as many as we can, trace their contacts in the last one month, disinfect buses and trains they travelled in, and test them. In the first round of screening [in Koliwada], we surveyed 40,000 people for symptoms and till Tuesday night, 8,144 people were surveyed using thermal guns.

Can we call this random testing?

You can say we are doing a planned random testing by zeroing in on one area. In Worli Koliwada, people are living in a densely populated area. That is why we are deploying our entire strength of doctors to survey the area. We are also disinfecting the area. When you isolate carriers, you make society safer.

What is the strategy going ahead?

Koliwada, Janata colony, Adarsh Nagar, and Jijamata Nagar, which is a densely populated slum with migrant workers, are hotspots. Most slums in our country have community toilets. That is why we are isolating these places, sanitising toilets every day and testing everyone. In testing, we are doing two things. We are quarantining people and looking for their closest contacts. We then look for symptoms and test beyond that. In Poddar Hospital, we identified 14 patients in this manner.

Have you identified the index patients in Worli Koliwada?

There was a person who had returned from Oman, while another one worked as a chef at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.

What is the latest tally in G South?

It was 139 this morning, but I am expecting it to go higher. We have to ramp up testing, we have the highest number in Mumbai, probably in the country too. That means people are getting safer as we are reducing and containing carriers. Also, we are reducing the number of people who will get infected after this week. My constituency has chawls, slum pockets, high-rises. Even though the number is increasing, I know that I am isolating many people instead of allowing them to roam freely. So far, 400 people have been tested in G South.

Don’t you think this model needs to be replicated across the city?

Yes. We are doing that. I think it will be replicated across Maharashtra. As and when we get the testing kits approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research, we are deploying them. There is a fear regarding the safe disposal of used masks. Even a handkerchief is useful as it prevents spreading of infection outside and can be reused.

Can we conduct random testing in slums?

It will start, we have drawn a roadmap. It will happen every week, we will keep taking reviews.

With vegetable vendors barred from containment zones, people are having a hard time finding supplies.

As part of the government, we are doing everything to ensure the flow of supplies. There is a team in the Mantralaya that is making sure that supplies are reaching people right from slums to the most expensive houses. This is one aspect. In Koliwada, I ensured that vegetables, grains, milk, medicines, doctors were made available in the first 24 hours. Now we have to further divide Koliwada and such containment zones. They need to have three to four stalls so that there are no more queues. The second aspect is having a global perspective. America is asking us for tablets. India is under lockdown, so is Maharashtra, and parts of Mumbai. There will be some inconvenience, there will be pain points everywhere. We will try to ease them, but this is not a normal situation, it is an emergency-like situation. Suppliers are scared to make deliveries in containment zones. We have to calculate that fear and see if home delivery is possible in an area as complex as Mumbai or Pune or Nagpur. There will be pain points, but we are trying to solve them as much as possible.

Are we looking at an extended lockdown?

The coming 10 days are very crucial, but that is a call the Chief Minister, the Health Minister, and the Deputy Chief Minister will have to take. The next five days will be important for Maharashtra. People have to stay indoors, be careful. We don’t have to panic but respect the virus and stay indoors. Every hour is important right now. Most cases are asymptomatic, so that is not a worry. But the vulnerable section of society, the elders in our house, those with comorbidities. Incidence of diabetes and hypertension is much higher in Maharashtra, plus the number of foreign travellers who come here is also high. It is crucial not to panic, but to be careful.

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 9:06:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/only-way-to-save-lives-is-to-test-as-many-people-as-we-can/article31293849.ece

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