As swine flu continued to claim victims and infect more people in Maharashtra, which has faced the brunt of the virus in India, health officials took radical steps to contain it. Of India’s seven swine-flu deaths, five have been in this state.
Two more swine-flu-infected people died in Pune on Monday, taking the city’s toll to four. This prompted the government to direct all schools, colleges and coaching classes in the city to shut down for a week, and cinema halls for three days. Four more patients in Pune are in a serious condition, according to local health officials.
“We are trying everything possible,” said Deepa Lad, the resident medical officer at Sassoon Hospital, where they are all admitted. “Let’s hope for the best.”
There have been no casualties in Mumbai after a 33-year-old infected homemaker from Jogeshwari died on Saturday, although three people are in a serious condition.
The one death in Mumbai, however, sparked panic and caused hordes of people to get themselves tested at all the six designated civic screening centres, including Kasturba Hospital, which, until Friday, was the only one allowed to handle swine-flu cases.
Since the swine flu virus arrived in India on May 13, Maharashtra has seen 327 people testing positive, of which 228 people have been treated and discharged.
But 140 people remain under treatment, including 72 in Mumbai hospitals. To meet the challenge of treating so many people, on Monday, the state government designated six more civic hospitals and three state hospitals as screening centres.
A committee headed by Chief Secretary Johnny Joseph also met with the heads of 19 private hospitals from all over the city, such as Jaslok and Lilavati, to discuss the possibility of them starting screening centres and isolation wards there.
Unlike in Pune, in Mumbai, the state government has left it to schools to decide whether to temporarily shut down in consultation with the collector. Four schools had already shut down, and a few more, such as Bombay International in south Mumbai, announced that they would close for the remainder of the week.
While officials had over the weekend urged the public not to overreact and not to get screened unless first advised by a doctor, people continued to stream to the six screening centres.
There was chaos at Kasturba Hospital, where about 400 people landed up. Farida Sheikh, a resident of Mohammad Ali Road, had come to get her 20-year-old daughter, who has been running a fever and vomiting for three days, screened. “I stood for one hour in the wrong queue,” Sheikh said.
In Mulund, the civic MT Agarwal Hospital had already screened 200 people by the afternoon. But conditions there appeared to be less than ideal. “My daughter has been referred here for persistent fever,” said Mrigank Sharma (43). “But the place is so cramped and ventilation and sanitary levels are so bad.”
Meanwhile, the price of the special swine flu masks sky-rocketed from about Rs 50 to up to Rs 450.
“In the past fortnight, I have supplied lakhs of masks, while earlier it used to be a few thousands every month,” said Ketan Kaker (37) of Eastman Industries, one of the largest distributors of three-layered masks in Mumbai. “But I have no stocks now.”