The nationwide lockdown announced by the Indian Prime Minister in late March to stave off the impending Coronavirus pandemic, overnight transformed the life of an Indian citizen to negotiating curfew timings, stocking up essentials and tracking Coronavirus disease spread across the country, amidst binge-watching record-breaking re-runs of Ramayana and Mahabharata.
The cooperation of 1.3 Indian billion citizens, powered by their immense faith in their hard-working Prime Minister, has seen the lockdown being largely successful in saving lives and slowing the hurricane speed progress of Coronavirus in India, for now. Most importantly, the lockdown has given the Centre and State administrations desperately needed time to plan and build up their underdeveloped healthcare capacities, parallelly work on vigorous identification, isolation, and treatment of the infected during this time and prepare for the future surge or spikes in Coronavirus cases over the coming months, till a vaccine becomes available. The lockdown and Coronavirus’s arrival in India has coincided with peak Indian summer, which sees daily 35˚C + temperatures in large parts of the country, reducing COVID-19 virus survival in the external environment and somewhat slowing its transmission ability.
In this backdrop, the actions of the Maharashtra Government and Asia’s richest regarded Municipality, BMC, since the official acknowledgment of Coronavirus crisis, have left a lot to be desired.
Six weeks of lockdown has seen varying results, with states like Assam, Goa, Sikkim, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Tripura and Kerala which recovered from initial surge, being successful in arresting Coronavirus spread, while Maharashtra, TN, Rajasthan, MP, Gujarat have struggled, with West Bengal simply choosing to live in denial! The coming months will see residents of less vigilant and inefficiently led states, pay a huge price for the actions or lack thereof, by their elected leaders and administrations.
Since the early days, Maharashtra and Mumbai region has seen a steady rise in Coronavirus cases and have featured amongst the top Coronavirus hotspots nationally.
Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, has many similarities to New York City, which has been devastated by the uncontrolled Coronavirus spread. Worryingly, in comparison to New York, Mumbai has a 20% higher population density, a 250% higher population (half residing in slums), and half of New York’s pre-Coronarvirus outbreak hospital bed capacity.
In this backdrop, the actions of the Maharashtra Government and Asia’s richest regarded Municipality, BMC, since the official acknowledgment of Coronavirus crisis, have left a lot to be desired.
To a calm observer of Mumbai’s iconic Marine drive, the lockdown presents a surreal tranquil picture of empty roads, blue skies and gently lapping Arabian Sea waters. But in the informed circles of Mumbai’s top bureaucracy and administration, privy to the Coronavirus spread and sinking ground reality; there is only hushed dread at the scenario likely to unfold across Mumbai in coming weeks and months.
For they know, the lockdown and summer represent the lull before the tsunami-like Coronavirus storm, which seeks to engulf the city during monsoons, sending Mumbai and Maharashtra down a death spiral, worse than New York. This will be an unpardonable crime on part of the Maharashtra Government, its leaders and Asia’s richest municipal corporation BMC, given that State Government and BMC have had sufficient head start to review, prepare and implement timely actions to avert such a crisis, based on the experiences of Coronavirus afflicted cities worldwide. Team Pgurus hopes that this multi-part series galvanizes action at the highest levels of government to act and retrieve the situation over the next five weeks.
The retreat of Baramati led a party into the foreground is attributed to its all-knowing leader, who has sized up the situation being privy to privileged briefings, through his Delhi Janus sources.
Thanks to a series of political moves and counter moves, the newfound Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) dispensation took office in Nov 2019, led by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, mentored by NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and support of Congress party.
The MVA Government led by Shiv Sena President, garnered public sympathy for his stated goal of accepting public office to fulfill his promise to Late Balasaheb Thackeray, moving quickly to burnish its secular credentials and tighten its hold on administration through populist moves, adopting an anti-Centre stand, sending mixed signals on CAA, its members jeering top BJP leadership as Delhi Sultanate, likening Delhi police action against rioting Jamia Millia protestors to Jaillianwala Bagh massacre, overseeing the progress of legal cases against ex-CM Devendra Fadnavis to checkmate him, at the same time invoking Shivaji Maharaj, Late Balasaheb Thackeray’s legacy and Maharashtra’s pride, to justify its actions.
After seeing through a tough and curtailed winter assembly session and presenting its maiden budget, which among many things proposed to use a ₹10,000 crores land parcel for a ₹1,000 crore aquarium, lavish sops for Baramati, a London Eye for Mumbai and a US West Coast type scenic Konkan highway, the MVA alliance with cushy divisions of power spoils, looked set for a comfortable tenure over the next few years.
However, the Coronavirus pandemic and the scale of the problem staring in its face, is exposing the schisms and chinks in the MVA Government leadership and its administration.
The worsening Coronavirus crisis in Mumbai and Maharashtra has seen Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aaditya Thackeray emerge as the visible TV and social media face of the government, sporting conspicuous Swiss-made protective masks and operating almost exclusively from the inner sanctum of their Kalanagar abode. The on-ground absence of Mumbai’s prominent Guardian Minister and Worli MLA in this crisis, seen tweeting requests and updates, has left voters seething, for his constituency accounts for one of the largest numbers of Mumbai’s Coronavirus cases. The retreat of Baramati led a party into the foreground is attributed to its all-knowing leader, who has sized up the situation being privy to privileged briefings, through his Delhi Janus sources.
The Maharashtra Government and BMC’s response to the Coronavirus crisis after early steps, has seemingly gone off track. Unlike the Prime Minister whose actions are being guided by the collective scientific wisdom of top experts, various committees and continuous dialogue with leading individuals, the Maharashtra Government took almost four weeks post lockdown to formally constitute a committee of top medical experts to guide its strategy and actions in Mumbai and Maharashtra.
The rapid increase in Coronavirus cases in Mumbai has corresponded to a series of missteps by BMC and state Government, such as misclassification of over 100 Coronavirus suspect cases as natural deaths by BMC Hospitals, highlighted by ex-CM Devendra Fadnavis via a letter to CM Uddhav Thackeray. The firebrand BJP Ex-MP Kirit Somaiya from Mumbai, whose political sacrifice was the alleged price extracted by Sena in lieu of 2019 Lok Sabha support, has kept up a daily torrent of exposes, through his Twitter handle alleging under-reporting of Coronavirus cases by BMC, forcing BMC to report backlog data. These data issues and disappearance of Mumbai city’s municipal ward wise breakup of Coronavirus cases since late April created a furor. BMC’s explanation that it lacks resources to reconcile numbers with Central Govt reporting, sounds shallow, given that world’s top analytics, statistics, and data experts from Fractal, Mckinsey, and Boston Consulting are working for BMC pro bono to aid its crisis management efforts. Worryingly, since the early days of the Coronavirus crisis, daily news reports and social media are flooded with heartbreaking stories of underequipped healthcare workers, overwhelmed administration, hospitals stretched to limits, ill-equipped isolation facilities, all of this, at the seemingly early stage of Coronavirus spread. The tragedy befalling non-COVID-19 patients is much worse as they are cut off from all healthcare facilities.
To add to this, Mumbai’s dominant private healthcare sector from primary to tertiary levels has been either paralyzed due to hospital-wide Coronavirus outbreaks, facing staff shortages or simply shutting down to avoid a pandemic. The stigma and fear attached to Coronavirus infection have further compounded problems for doctors. As a result, almost 90% of Mumbai’s private practitioners of its 20,000 odd registered doctors have shut their clinics. Similarly, all of Mumbai’s few thousand dental practitioners, except for a brave dozen, have shut shop the past two months following IDA guidelines. The 1400 odd BMC registered nursing clinics are largely closed. The State Government and BMC have been found hugely wanting and late on this front, with steps taken in the last couple of days.
End of May 1st week, Maharashtra accounts for over 30% of India’s Coronavirus cases, with Mumbai metropolitan region accounting for staggering 80% of Maharashtra’s cases as per Maharashtra Government daily reports.
Making matters worse, the Uddhav Thackeray led MVA Government in this period has been caught up in series of public perception fiasco be it the angry revelations by a Bollywood actress giving out details of a PR campaign by Mumbai Police in self-praise of State Government and CM’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. The issuance of curfew pass by Special Home Secretary to DHLF scam accused Wadhawan brothers, and the brutal assault of a Maharashtrian family man for social media posts by COVID-19 afflicted Minister Jitendra Awhad through his police guards, all of which have added to the government’s misery. The mishandling of the Bandra migrant worker protest and blaming of Central Government by Mumbai’s guardian minister Aaditya Thackeray, who was embarrassed by its ally Congress MLA revealing the protests were triggered by migrants not receiving State Government aid. The horrifying lynching of innocent sadhus and their driver by frenzied villagers in Palghar near Mumbai in the presence of hapless police officers unleashed a storm of public fury. The Government response in each of the cases has only strengthened the public perception of its actions, being mere eyewash. Amidst all this, the Chief Minister had to call on the Prime Minister and ask for his personal attention to ensure timely elections and his own electoral future.
The press too has had ample grouse to complain against the MVA Government led by CM Uddhav Thackeray. The FIR and arrest of ABP Journalist, the complaint against Times now a journalist and the FIR’s followed by an intense grilling by Mumbai Police against Republic TV editor, have alarmed even the ardent media supporters of this government.
On the other hand, the Coronavirus crisis has not dampened BMC’s rulers and their enthusiasm for strange machinations, starting with BMC’s Standing committee March emergency meeting ostensibly to discuss Coronavirus crisis, but ended up approving a single ₹632 crore road work contract, to BMC’s wasteful contract medical staff appointment advertisement, faulty tenders for new hospital building at Kasturba Hospital, dubious tender calling for digital thermometers to work at 500˚C temperatures and to top it off, floating off the ₹21,000 crores one-month deadline Sewage Treatment Plant tender in the middle of Coronavirus crisis! While the lockdown brought entire all of Mumbai infrastructure work to a half, BMC’s Mumbai’s coastal road work continued despite protests.
End of May 1st week, Maharashtra accounts for over 30% of India’s Coronavirus cases, with Mumbai metropolitan region accounting for staggering 80% of Maharashtra’s cases as per Maharashtra Government daily reports. In its current state of affairs, Mumbai and Maharashtra today stands at the crossroads hurtling down New York’s path or showcasing to the world, a model for megacity COVID-19 crisis management. What will it be?
The BMC frontline staff and its 24 ward officers, led by a crisis hardened Municipal Commissioner who was abruptly replaced yesterday and Mumbai Police are bravely fighting to stem the Coronavirus tide. But the magnitude of the task is too vast and their work hamstrung by infrastructure, lack of safety equipment, interference, and such issues. The administration is too consumed with COVID-19 pandemic crisis handling to negotiate Mumbai’s vital monsoon preparation work.
Coronavirus cases in Mumbai have climbed from early days of lockdown with major worries being outbreaks in Worli Koliwada, a fishermen colony of 80,00 residents packed into 2 sq.kms, with their mistreatment and abrupt isolation compounding their miseries and Dharavi, a sprawling slum with over 10 lakhs residents living cheek by jowl, where the outbreak is attributed to Delhi Tabhligi Jamaat Markaz attendees, which accounted for 30% of India’s cases in April.
The aggressive tracing, isolation, and treatment steps taken by Assam and UP for Markaz attendees, helped them identify and contain the Coronavirus spread. Maharashtra’s MVA Government, on the other hand, chose to soft-pedal the issue of Tabhligi Jamaat Markaz returnees and missing attendees. The continued silence of the Maharashtra Government on the exact status or number of missing Tabhligi Jamaat attendees is alarming. An ICMR study reveals that a single Coronavirus infected person without isolation can infect 406 persons in 30 days. The case of a Corona infected Kerala gold smuggler who came in contact with 3000 people before his isolation, is a stark example.
Then there have been continued reports of MVA Government’s blind eye, lax enforcement, and lockdown violations chronicled, especially in the minority-dominated areas of Mumbai and Maharashtra, who have frequently clashed with police and disregarded lockdown guidelines.
So what does the future hold for Mumbai & Maharashtra?
Mumbai residents have seen varying reports about Mumbai’s Coronavirus spread projections, ranging from 6.5 lakh cases attributed to Central Government’s estimate by May end to BMC estimate of 75,000 cases. Worldwide, Coronavirus spread has been hard to predict and model, even in India where testing, data reporting tools, processes, and sometimes mindset are a challenge.
An analysis that looks at the healthcare infra shortage gives an alarming prediction of Mumbai’s Coronanvirus spread and numbers by May end. Its April end report, it had accurately predicted all India number of cases by 6 May. Mumbai’s doubling rate of COVID-19 cases has moved from 7 to 10 days in current lockdown conditions. The State Government and BMC are gearing up to handle 75,000 cases by May end.
Experts caution post-May 17 if Mumbai lockdown is lifted, with the Eid festival looming; all lockdown period gains will be wiped out, as seen nationwide post lockdown 2 relaxations. Once Mumbai’s medical infrastructure is overwhelmed by the surge in cases. The accelerated COVID-19 transmission, amplified by monsoon’s enhanced viral transmission, will spread like wildfire in Mumbai’s congested slums and localities. In such a scenario, experts say Mumbai will gallop towards the unthinkable number of 1 crore Coronavirus infection cases with Mumbai staring at a dire Diwali season. Do bear in mind, that at current healthcare capacities, even one-tenth of that number will overwhelm the system. At 1.4 crores COVID-19 infection cases, it can be hoped that herd immunity will kick in slowing infections, but the progress to any number even 10% of it, in such a compressed time period, will translate into thousands of deaths and worse.
This is the dreaded possibility of being whispered in Mumbai’s top decision-making circles, given the current state of affairs.
Maintaining a version of lockdown 3.0 conditions, experts suggest BMC will need to prepare for up to 2,50,000 isolation beds, based on New York’s experience and at least 20,000 hospital beds, preserved for those who need hospitalization. Isolation beds are a big essential, for 50% of Mumbai’s slum-dwelling population, reside in cramped homes, and to compound this, only a small section of Mumbai’s apartment dwelling population has the ability to effectively home quarantine itself.
The next five weeks with extended lockdown provide critical time for exponential course correction measures before monsoons and will require the State Government and BMC to take a series of steps.
Team Pgurus in light of the extraordinary public health interest at stake, has spelled out series of steps for the State Government and BMC to take in partnership with Central Government.
- The Shiv Sena CM led MVA Government must admit its shortcomings, drop its antagonistic approach towards Centre, the Opposition, and look at the possibility of forming a Unity Government in Maharashtra.
- State Government and BMC should immediately tap BMC’s ₹40,000 crores reserves, stop all non-essential long term work such as STP and Coastal Road, clean up its shady tender business and deploy ₹10,000 crores immediately to fund COVID-19 pandemic efforts in Mumbai region and Maharashtra for the next few months. Mumbai residents will gladly suffer infrastructure pangs and accept future increased civic charges, in exchange for saving of their lives.
- The CM should hold an immediate conference with Mumbai’s top industrial houses, experts to seek their monetary and in-kind help, form empowered committees of Government and private sector experts to manage each aspect of this warlike preparation.
- The focus of the Government should be twin fold to manage the Coronavirus pandemic crisis efforts and ensure monsoon preparations to prevent 26 July 2005 type devastation.
- The State Government and BMC need to start work with private and Central Government help to build capacity for up to 2,50,000 beds
- Indian Railways working with great foresight and speed, have already converted over 5,000 coaches into 80,000 isolation beds with 15,000 more coaches being retrofitted. Maharashtra Government and BMC need to immediately approach Indian Railways and requisition these coaches to acquire required beds capacity.
- Indian Army Core of Engineers are experts in rapid building technologies. Their help should be sought and joint teams with BMC, State PWD, and private companies formed to quickly survey all available sites, locations and make standard plans and templates for creating healthcare facilities.
- Mumbai is home to India’s best EPC infrastructure companies like L&T, Afcons, Tata, HCC, and others. The State Government needs to seek their help to modify existing structures and or aim to build 50,000 beds of isolation /treatment facilities over the next few weeks with clear completion targets. All available public or private land or habitable structures should be including Mumbai Port Trust, RCF ¸Railways be sought for building such facilities.
- Mumbai’s real estate sector is sitting on unsold ready to move in the housing stock of 19,200 units and an unsold inventory of 8.9 lakh units. All ready to use flats, buildings, and apartment complexes should be taken over and equipped as isolation/preliminary treatment facilities. Furthermore, of the 8.9 lakh units, those units which are almost completed can be quickly made operational and utilized too. The struggling real estate sector will gladly contribute and agree to reasonable remuneration or future duty or tax waivers, State Government, and BMC offers.
- From the star hotels of Mumbai, over half should be converted to isolation or quarantine facilities, for those who can afford it.
- On lines of Andhra Pradesh Government decision, State Government and BMC need to immediately invoke Disaster Act and Epidemic acts to takeover and re-open paralyzed private health in Mumbai and Maharashtra. Doctors and personnel should be properly resourced to resume medical consultation.
- All these doctors will be needed for monitoring and treating the thousands of isolation bed patients, any surge will bring. Back of paper calculation, shows that compensating all of Mumbai’s doctors and hospitals will cost a couple of hundred crores per month. A small price to pay for saving lakhs of lives.
- State Government should take all measures to decongest Mumbai by allowing migration of healthy uninfected residents to their native places or alternate locations outside Mumbai, with prior testing to address people’s misgivings.
- 100 additional COVID-19 confirmatory RT-PCR testing labs with the capacity to test 50,000 people per day should be established throughout the Mumbai region and Maharashtra. The total cost for this, using available infrastructure will be less than ₹250 crores.
- New Point of Care Covid-19 test which gives confirmation result in 1 hour and similar such technologies used in USA, Japan, South Korea should be acquired such as to undertake 15,000 tests per day and provided to frontline medical police and civic staff.
- All microbiologists, lab technicians, and such staff trained in diagnostic test evaluations currently idling away in closed Universities, colleges, research institutions, should be redeployed to ramp up testing capacities and operate labs round the clock.
- A contact tracing cell of up to 4,000 volunteers should be established for continued tracking, tracing, and monitoring of quarantine patients and outbreaks, given Mumbai’s high positivity numbers. US former CDC director Tom Frieden predicted the US requiring about 100,000 contact tracing staff as part of Coronavirus pandemic management efforts.
- The State Government through BMC can announce a monthly cash supplement for needy households, based on existing PDS data to secure them in extended lockdown and avail from Central Government’s 50 million tonnes surplus ample foodgrain stock to provide for their essentials.
- Ensuring Mumbai’s smooth infrastructure operation during monsoon especially during the Coronavirus pandemic is vital. Any lapse will result in further loss of lives.
- Companies like Reliance, Mahindra, and Tata manage and operate large townships and critical infrastructure. Their help should be sought to deploy personnel teams to augment BMC strength and man Mumbai region’s critical infrastructure during monsoon.
- State Government should immediately seek deployment of National and State Disaster management teams and Indian Navy personnel to mitigate flooding and such issues during Mumbai’s monsoon cum Coronavirus crisis.
- A simple step of deploying 300 high ground clearance large wheel tractors, Army trucks and such vehicle types in Mumbai region during monsoon with pulleys will help rescue flooded cars, and detachable good carriers will allow free movement of infrastructure, workforce, and equipment through Mumbai’s flooded areas even on its worst monsoon days. Mahindra Group based in Mumbai is the world’s largest manufacturer of tractors.
- The State Government needs to requisition all private healthcare facilities across Maharashtra and tie-up with neighboring states. Using Indian railway’s isolation coaches as mobile ambulances the State Government will be able to quickly shuttle patients from overcrowded Mumbai hospitals to other parts with spare hospital capacity and vice versa, as done by French and German authorities.
- As suggested by renowned doctor and healthcare expert Dr.Devi Shetty, relaxations should be given to final year students, foreign returned doctors, and retired personnel be drafted back into immediate service to offer to augment healthcare capacities.
- With Central Government support and using the immense network of India’s richest industrialists, BMC should launch global and national sourcing programs for PPE, N95, diagnostics test re-agent, and test kits. Surplus ventilators from the USA, with its slowing down of COVID-19 cases, can be sought on temporary loans if required for urgent reinforcement of available stocks.
- New COVID-19 proof surface coating technologies used in Hong Kong for sanitizing mass public contact surfaces, should be acquired and can even be produced through the world’s top agrochemical companies like UPL, Excel, Tata Chemicals, all based in Mumbai.
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 Our robust model of 3C – caution, care and compassion, helped us manage COVID-19 : Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma – May 01, 2020, Economic Times
 All credit to this doctor for Goa’s ‘zero COVID’ status – Apr 20, 2020, Livemint
 With best recovery rate, Kerala is the flagbearer of India’s fight against Covid-19 – Apr 06, 2020, Indiatimes
 New York’s daily coronavirus deaths remain ‘obnoxiously high,’ Gov. Cuomo warns – May 2, 2020, NY Post
 Shiv Sena flip-flop on CAA continues, now Uddhav Thackeray says law has been misunderstood – Feb 5, 2020, The Print
 Uddhav likens police action on Jamia Campus to Jallianwala Bagh Massacre – Dec 18, 2019, Economic Times
 Nagpur court grants Fadnavis bail in election affidavit case – Feb 21, 2020, Indiatimes
 Maharashtra budget: World-class aquarium proposed in Mumbai – Mar 6, 2020, Indiatimes
 Maharashtra budget session: Ajit Pawar lavishes sops on own constituency – Feb 25, 2020, Indianexpress
 Coronavirus: Maharashtra forms task force for patient management protocol at dedicated hospitals – Apr 14, 2020, The Hindu
 Senior citizen denied hospital admission over virus fears in Mumbai – Mar 23, 2020, The Hindu
 Hospital didn’t have bed, ambulance refused oxygen facility: Family’s ordeal after doctor succumbs to Covid-19 – Apr 25, 2020, Hindustan Times
 Medical staff at K B Bhabha Hospital in Bandra protest after death of a COVID-19 patient – Apr 8, 2020, Mumbai Mirror
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 Mumbai police running a PR campaign amid coronavirus? Tweet by Urvashi Rautela suggests so – Apr 10, 2020, Opindia
 Aaditya Thackeray blames centre for protest by migrant workers – Apr 14, 2020, Economic Times
 पालघर: पुलिस के सामने हुई साधुओं की मॉब लिंचिंग! VIDEO से उठे सवाल – Apr 20, 2020, Aaj Tak
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 150 Tablighi Markaz attendees booked by Azad Maidan police station – May 08, 2020, Mumbai Mirror
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- India does not need lectures about vaccine supplies: France President Emmanuel Macron. European Union appreciates India’s ‘Vaccine Maitri’ - May 9, 2021
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