After three rounds of lockdown, Mumbai finally saw some relaxations on Monday, with more shops opening up, app-based cabs resuming operations, and e-commerce firms allowed to deliver non-essential goods. In the afternoon, thousands of vehicles were out on the city’s roads and there were traffic jams in some areas – an indication that many believe the worst is behind us and that life can more or less return to normal now.
However, government officials and experts Mirror spoke to said despite the relaxations, the ever-increasing number of daily cases means that Mumbai needs to keep its guard up and avoid caving in to ‘lockdown fatigue’. Venturing out unnecessarily – or not taking the usual precautions when doing so – during this time could lead to a spike in cases and undo much of what the lockdown has achieved so far.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said on Monday that now was not the time for Mumbai to let its guard down, and had a word of warning to those who believe Covid-19 to be little worse than the flu. “I know many people think that this is just a flu – that everyone gets it and nothing will happen. But that is not true. The fact is there is no medicine for this virus. So lowering your guard now is not advisable,” he said.
Anant Bhan, a researcher in global health, bioethics and health policy, said that people may be suffering from ‘lockdown fatigue’ after two months of heavy restrictions but warned against taking the fourth phase of the lockdown lightly. “After two months of being in lockdown people are bound to be a bit restless, but given the ever-increasing number of cases, they must take minimum risks. Things can’t go back to the way they were before. The state leadership must lay out a plan of how and when the lockdown will be lifted. There should be more engagement with the public on this,” Bhan said.
“You must only go out if it is absolutely essential. And it’s important to have a high level of self-discipline when you do go out. Just because two moons have passed, it doesn’t mean that the virus is gone. Most people have realised that Covid-19 is not a short-term thing anymore. They know that it will be here for the medium term or even long term and that we will have to live with it,” he added.
Dr Hemant Deshmukh, dean of KEM Hospital, said he was worried about the inevitable second wave of infections that would follow from the easing of restrictions and said that it was now up to individuals to curb the spread of the disease. “What is worrying us is we will control the second wave that will come from the easing of the lockdown. People need to understand the severity of this disease, and know that it can only be curbed if we all continue to wear masks, wash our hands frequently, practice social distancing and avoid going out unless absolutely necessary,” he said.
Deshmukh added, “Currently we don’t have a single bed available at our hospital. All critical care beds and isolation wards are full. Despite that we cannot refuse any patient admission. But how long can the hospital function like this?”
Dr Sanjay Oak, the chairman of the state’s Covid-19 task force, told Mirror, “I agree that people are losing patience but they have to understand that the lockdown period so far has only given us time to prepare for what is coming.”
Having crossed 20,000 confirmed cases with 1,185 new cases on Monday, Mumbai is already the epicenter of the disease in India. Over the past week, the city recorded around 1,000 new cases every day and now has 21,152 confirmed cases, according to the BMC’s figures. The death toll is now 757 with 23 more deaths on Monday.
The biggest reason why people must remain on guard – apart from the nature of the disease itself – is that Mumbai is already facing an acute shortage of hospital beds. With the number of cases yet to peak, dedicated Covid-19 hospitals such as KEM, Nair, Kasturba, SevenHills, St George’s, and Jogeshwari Trauma Centre, are already full. This despite the fact that KEM, Nair and Sion hospitals added 600 new Covid-19 beds in just the past week.
Despite this, landing a Covid-19 bed is no mean feat – even if you have the disease. On Sunday a 35-year old resident of Santacruz tested positive after he went to a private hospital with a fever. He telephoned at least six hospitals -Nanavati, Jaslok, Wockhardt, Fortis, Raheja and Hinduja – but was told all their beds, and their waiting lists, were full. Then he telephoned the BMC helpline (1916) and was told it would take at least 24 hours to get a bed as all BMC hospitals were also full. He said, “My fever was not going down, so I took some medicine for it on my own. I was in constant fear while waiting for the BMC to call, worried that my condition would worsen. Finally on Monday morning I got a call from the BMC. They told me there was a bed available at the Jogeshwari Trauma Centre and I was finally admitted there.”
And the clearest indication that the worst for Mumbai lies ahead and not behind us is the pace at which the BMC and state government are scrambling to set up new quarantine and isolation centres. A BMC official told Mirror that the city may need 35,000 beds just for high-risk contacts and asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic patients.
With isolation beds filling up quickly, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) on Monday handed over a huge 1,000-bed isolation facility at Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) to the BMC. The BMC is now eyeing more such potential ‘jumbo isolation centres’ – equipped with ICU beds, oxygen cylinders and ventilators -and is looking to add 7,500 more isolation beds to its arsenal in preparation for the disease’s peak in Mumbai.
According to BMC officials, jumbo facilities will be set up at Aarey Dairy at Worli, Dahisar’s Octroi Check Naka, the Richardson & Crudas Warehouse in Mulund and the New Zealand Hostel in Goregaon, among other places.
Another indicator of what lies ahead is the recommendation by the state government’s Covid-19 task force to reserve 80% of beds in all private and public hospitals for Covid-19 patients for the next six weeks. It has said that unless this is done, Covid-19 patients in need of critical care will not be able to get beds when they need them. If 80% of beds are kept aside for Covid-19, it will make 22,000 beds available for symptomatic patients and those in need of urgent treatment.