Battling Covid-19 in Mumbai
Who is responsible for Mumbai’s mess? The answer is simple: Years of apathy under successive governments that sought to treat the city as a cash machine, rather than a living ecosystem. The city of dreams, whose engine is powered by money, does not have enough of anything — roads, housing, buses and trains, schools, hospitals, parks and public places. Before the lockdown last March, an average of seven people lost their lives, daily, on the railway tracks of the city’s famed suburban network. But the city that never sleeps chugged on nevertheless, just as it is, now, with an average of 16 deaths from Covid-19 a day for the past week. What the world takes for resilience — evident in that completely inappropriate term for people who go through hell just to make a living, the spirit of Mumbai — is largely resignation.
Extraneous factors may have driven Mumbai’s (and Maharashtra’s) Covid-19 trajectory in the first wave. A mutant strain of the virus that’s more infectious is probably driving the second. These are beyond any government’s control. But restrictions that make work, life, play, travel safe for people are well within the state government’s remit. It was only on Sunday evening that the Uddhav Thackeray-led government decided to impose a weekend lockdown, restrict the use of public transport to 50% of its capacity, and order the closure of theatres, malls, religious places, among other steps, till April 30. This was necessary, and if anything, is too delayed and partial. The right time to impose these restrictions would have been March 1. As opposed as this newspaper is to the idea of a complete lockdown — it makes sense only if the period is used to strengthen health infrastructure, or arrest a raging wave that is threatening to go out of control — Maharashtra may well require a short, hard lockdown to make up for that lapse.
The power to open up vaccines to all, meanwhile, is with the Centre. Vaccinating a million people in Maharashtra a day for the next three weeks will cover at least a fourth of its adult population. Yet, New Delhi has been happy to watch the state government fail spectacularly. Given its connectedness to the rest of the country, it is just a matter of time before the fire in Mumbai spreads. Both the state and the central government must act, now.