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Cleaner, more aware... but for the most part, life back to normal in Pune’s Covid hotspots

PUNE During the early days of the pandemic last year, when the rest of the city was relatively untouched by the coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 infection, Kashewadi slum in Bhavani peth had become a hotspot of infection
By Dheeraj Bengrut
UPDATED ON MAR 03, 2021 01:43 PM IST

PUNE During the early days of the pandemic last year, when the rest of the city was relatively untouched by the coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 infection, Kashewadi slum in Bhavani peth had become a hotspot of infection.

The virus, according to civic health department officials, entered the population here through a domestic help working at the home of a family that had just returned from abroad.

The infection slowly took enveloped Kashewadi, a population of 11,000, and the slum was reporting 60 per cent of the overall number of cases in city in May and June last year.

Gradually, Covid-19 to another slum on Tadiwala road, under the Dhole Patil road ward office, making it difficult for the civic machinery to control its spread, as both localities are congested.

Residents also use public toilets, where social distancing norms were flouted.

A year later, these two slums are reporting fewer cases, though many in these localities have returned to their pre-Covid lifestyle, which the experts say, is risky.

For Kamal Ghadge, a resident of Kashewadi slum in Bhavani peth, nothing seems to have changed.

Recalling her Covid-19 experience, one year later, Ghadge said, “We were completely scared when the Covid outbreak happened. None of our family members went out except to use the public toilets. A year later, I do not see much change in our slum and even in the surrounding area, except that cleanliness of roads and toilets has gotten better.”

Bhavani peth is known for its wholesale stores as well. A majority of the residents have been living here for decades and are engaged in daily labour work.

When the Covid graph went down, most bylanes were freed from being containment zones. As a result, people began crowding the small chowks.

Public toilets too, have once again started seeing crowds, with people queuing up awaiting their turn.

Mangesh Joseph Manuel, another resident of the area, said, “We live in a building under the Slum Rehabilitation Authority. During the peak, our building had multiple positive cases and some even died due to the infection. Even I tested positive during the lockdown, but we maintained home cleanliness and self-hygiene on a priority.”

According to Manuel, the SRA buildings in Bhavani peth area are the dirtiest.

“Garbage was found lying all over the parking and circulating areas of the buildings. Very few people were wearing face masks and some of them were openly spitting on the road,” says Manuel.

When HT visited some public toilets at Kashewadi, it was clean, though people were crowding there to chit-chat outside.

Vajir Shaikh, a resident going of the Kashewadi slum area said, “As we live in a slum area there are no separate toilets, so we are dependent on public toilets. When the lockdown started and Covid positive cases were on rise, the main reason of spread was common toilet usage. PMC workers are cleaning the toilets several times a day for the last one year. Now we don’t fear going to the toilet.”

The situation is no different in the Tadiwala road slum area, with a population of 8,000.

Surekha Kamble, a resident of the Tadiwala road slum area said, “We have now become used to these conditions. For few months there was a fear of getting infected which is now gone. PMC workers clean the roads, but since the population is so large, throughout the day garbage gathers on the corners of the roads. Mostly, we do not send our children outside to play. There is need to clean the roads twice a day.”

While Tadiwala slum is close to the Pune railway station, both, local and migrant population live here. Many are engaged in daily wage work. Many from this slum also work as support staff at hospitals on the Dhole Patil road, like Ruby Hall clinic, Jehangir and even Sasoon Hospital.

From May to July 2020, daily cases in Tadiwala slum were 20 to 30, though the tally has now come down to just two cases per day.

Sachin Tamkhede, PMC assistant municipal commissioner and Bhavani Peth ward officer said, “It was a difficult year for us, as a major slum with a densely populated area comes under our ward office. All the necessary steps according to the Covid guidelines are being taken on daily basis, but creating public awareness and that sense of responsibility towards keeping our area clean is what we are working on. We still continue to clean public toilets five times a day, and to keep a watch on it, a mobile application has been developed through which “before” and “after” photos of the cleaning needs to be uploaded by that PMC staffer. We have tried our all possible efforts to bring down the death rate in our ward, especially in the slum areas from where it started.”

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