Mumbai News

4 deaths & counting: Asia’s biggest slum Dharavi has Mumbai’s fingers crossed – Economic Times

Another Covid death in Dharavi on Saturday, an 80-year-old, stoked the fear of what possibly lies ahead for Mumbai, India’s financial capital, as health officials desperately track the trajectory of an outbreak that has claimed over 200 lives across the country so far.

Saturday’s death is the fourth from the virus in Dharavi, which is around 5 km away from Mumbai’s key business district and home to India’s biggest stock exchange. With a population of about 1 million, many of whom are migrant laborers from villages miles away, keeping the contagion from spreading in Dharavi could help prevent hospitals in Mumbai from being overwhelmed.

Maharashtra is at present India’s virus epicentre with 1500 cases and half of the national death tally.

Within the bustling capital city of the state, Dharavi is easily the biggest ticking time bomb.

Officers from the Maharashtra Medical Council have started door-to-door testing of residents of Dharavi. Over the next 10 days, the team of doctors and civic officials will conduct thermal screening in the area.

On Friday, Dharavi reported 11 new cases of covid-19, taking its total tally to 28. There are reports that not many people are readily cooperating with the authorities. Officials admit that people are scared of the virus, but they are more scared of losing their jobs and being taken away to quarantine centres.

“In Dharavi, it’s very difficult to get the facts right. A lot of times residents are not telling us the truth about their travel history or where they have been out of fear. They fear they will be nabbed and punished for not following lockdown rules,” a Bloomberg report said quoting government official Kiran Dighavkar.

People in the slum are scared out of their wits about the fact that the deadly virus may have already possibly taken a firm grip on their shanties. And their fears are not without basis. Given the ground situation in the locality, social distancing doesn’t mean much to the residents. “We are talking about a slum where 10-12 people live in 10×10 feet tin hutments. You can’t expect them to sit at home all day long,” Vinod Shetty, director at the non-profit Acorn Foundation, told Bloomberg.

“They pay Rs 25 for a gallon of water, you’ll tell them to wash their hands frequently. Eighty people share a public toilet, you’ll tell them to not leave their house. How is that possible?” he asks.

That is what makes the case of Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums, absolutely crucial in the fight against the rapidly spreading pathogen. According to health experts, stopping the virus from breaking loose in Dharavi would be key to preventing hospitals in Mumbai from getting overwhelmed.

The same goes for hospitals in other states too — many of the migrant workers living in Dharavi probably left for their villages before the lockdown could be strictly implemented, possibly taking the virus far and wide.

An even bigger number of migrant workers are currently sitting idle in the slum and are being provided food by political parties or some other bodies. The fear now is that as soon as the lockdown is lifted, these migrants will leave for their homes in other states, taking the virus deep inside the hinterlands where medical facilities are scarce. The spectre is giving sleepless nights to authorities everywhere.