As six people succumbed to the H1N1 virus — all in Maharashtra — on Wednesday, a nervous Mumbai decided to close its schools and colleges and keep people out of multiplexes. In the last 48 hours, nine people have died in Mumbai alone of rain-related ailments, show figures released by the civic body, but that’s gone unnoticed.
The state order is largely to contain the panic and is an “emotional response”, said experts.
With Wednesday’s deaths, the toll in India’s worst-hit city Pune, has risen to 10. In Nashik, a doctor has succumbed to swine flu. Two more deaths, of a nine-month-old in Pune and a 45-year-old man in Nashik, are suspected to be of swine flu.
Across India, the toll rose to 17, with six more deaths reported on Wednesday — the largest in a single day. A total of 115 fresh cases were reported across India, taking the number of those affected to 1,193.
As Mumbaiites rushed to screening centres, 24 fresh cases were detected, taking the count to 143. Three patients are critical.
Pune remained the worst-affected with 61 new cases; in all, it has 323 swine flu cases.
“Private schools will remain shut till August 19 and BMC schools till August 21,” said Manisha Mhaiskar, additional municipal commissioner (health), Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. “Multiplexes and theatres will also be closed for the next three days [starting Thursday].”
While malls have not been shut down, Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal said: “Malls should put off discount offers and other such schemes, which attract a large number of customers.”
Experts think the state’s acting too late and say the shutdown worked in Mexico City, where the first case of swine flu was reported in May, because it was adopted early on. “Mexico City has a similar population density compared to Mumbai, but now that the virus has spread so much, there is little that can be done,” said Narendra Arora, senior epidemiologist and executive director of the Delhi-based Indian Clinical Epidemiology Network.
The benefit of the shutdown is psychological for both people and authorities. “Such drastic measures are not warranted. The problem is there is a lack of awareness, and authorities need to be seen as doing something,” said a senior epidemiologist, requesting anonymity.
There’s no doubt that Mumbaiites don’t want to send their kids to school — in response to an SMS poll the civic body conducted on Tuesday, 95 per cent respondents said schools should be shut.
Experts said what may have helped contain the spread of the virus earlier on is a complete freeze on movement, which is a practical impossibility. “It is not a complete restriction of movement. On the contrary, people will go on short holidays,” Arora said.