Are all high-risk contacts being screened in Mumbai’s slums?
Discrepancies in the screening of high-risk contacts of Covid-19 patients in some of Mumbai’s most congested areas have become a cause for concern, as they could lead to further spread of infection.
At present, 10,237 high-risk contacts of Covid-19 patients have been quarantined at category-one Covid care centres (CCC-1) located in converted hotels, lodges, and schools.
However, data from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has brought into question the efforts to screen vulnerable groups from wards like G/N and M/E which have some of the biggest slums in the city.
As per the Union Health Ministry’s guidelines, people with comorbid health issues and those above the age of 60, who have come in direct contact with Covid-infected patients, are classified as high-risk contacts. BMC keeps them isolated in CCC-1 to prevent transmission of the virus.
In Mumbai, there are 23,100 beds reserved for high-risk contacts in CCC-1 across the 24 wards.
At present, only 55% of them are occupied with 10,237 people. In G/N ward, which comprises Dharavi, Dadar, and Mahim with 1,316 Covid-19 cases, has 1,590 beds under CCC-1 but only 412 high-risk patients are quarantined at these centres.
Similarly, M/E ward, which includes areas like Govandi and Deonar, has quarantined only 432 high-risk patients while the bed capacity is 4,030 — the highest among the 24 wards. This is despite the ward having the most tuberculosis patients in the city.
E (Nagpada) and F/N (Wadala, Sion Koliwada, Worli) wards, with the third and fifth-highest number of Covid cases, have kept only 378 and 356 high-risk contacts in their CCC-1 facilities, respectively.
Wards like S (Bhandup, Vikhroli) and R/C (Borivli) on the other hand, which have recorded among the lowest number of cases, have institutionally quarantined the most high-risk contacts — 1,338 and 741, respectively.
Health activists have criticised the screening process implemented by BMC. “As people with weak immunity or compromised lungs are most susceptible to Covid-19, it is important to isolate them immediately to break the chain of infection,” said Arun Kumar, from Apnalaya NGO.
BMC said that high-risk contacts are screened as soon as someone tests positive for Covid-19. “Often, these high-risk contacts refuse to go to the centre and we have to take help from the police,” said Kiran Dighavkar, G/N ward officer.
Predicting a surge in Covid cases by the end of May, BMC is trying to add more beds in CCC-1. “Just because 55% of the beds are vacant, doesn’t mean we aren’t isolating high-risk contacts. We are keeping five times the required beds so that we don’t face any crisis,” said Bharat Marathe, deputy municipal commissioner of Zone 5.