Dr Shashank Joshi, member, Maharashtra Covid-19 Task Force.
Dr Shashank Joshi, member, Maharashtra Covid-19 Task Force.

Can’t open up trains for all as 1/3rd of citizens still susceptible to Covid-19, says Maharashtra’s task force member

Hindustan Times spoke to task force member Dr Shashank Joshi on the rationale behind their recommendations
By Jyoti Shelar, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON AUG 05, 2021 12:04 AM IST

Even as more relaxations in Covid-19 curbs have been introduced in Mumbai owing to a steady decline in the number of cases, restrictions to access local trains have been retained. Members of Maharashtra’s Covid-19 task force have emphasised three important aspects before opening public transport for all – achieving 70% vaccination coverage, random testing at stations and stringent implementation of double masking. Hindustan Times spoke to task force member Dr Shashank Joshi on the rationale behind their recommendations:

Why can’t local trains be opened for all when other relaxations are being implemented?

There are three important yardsticks for any city to relax their norms – the RT-PCR positivity rate has to be below 5% consistently for two weeks, there has to be 70% full vaccination coverage and zero tolerance for non-adherence to Covid-appropriate behaviour. We haven’t been able to achieve 70% vaccination coverage as yet. If we take into account the number of citizens who are vaccinated and those who have been exposed to the virus, there is still at least one-third of our population that is unexposed. The circulation of the virus is shrinking, but this one-third population is susceptible. Let’s say if local trains are opened, it is this susceptible population that will be fast infected.

Should people who have taken both the jabs be allowed on trains?

Yes. However, conducting such checks will be cumbersome.

With more relaxations and no local trains, buses are bearing the brunt with overcrowding. Won’t they become a breeding ground?

It continues to be our fear. That is one of the reasons why we have been emphasising on creating safer travel environments before allowing everyone to take public transport. Safer environments will be created as we achieve 70% vaccination coverage and implement strict double masking. One should understand that Mumbai has immense challenges in its fight against Covid-19. The city’s humidity is conducive for droplet transmission and for the virus to thrive. Its population density is among the highest and Mumbaiites generally tend to crowd and congregate. Any potential crowding can upset the declining trend that we are experiencing now.

Another crucial challenge is the Delta variant that has been rapidly transmitting. Mumbai predominantly has the Delta variant in circulation and a little bit of the Kappa variant as well. Therefore, a calibrated approach to reopening is important.

How soon can more relaxations like local trains for all be implemented?

Mumbai will open up more, gradually. It’s all about striking the right balance. The opening also depends on the readiness of the healthcare infrastructure for an unprecedented wave, the R0 or R-naught (which determines how transmissible the disease is) among other things. Overall, Maharashtra’s R0 has shown a decline, but any potential crowding situations can upset this trend.

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