Coronavirus outbreak: Big trouble brewing in Mumbai's Vasai-Virar belt

Updated: Mar 27, 2020, 07:14 IST | Diwakar Sharma | Mumbai

Several hundred locals who were working in the US, Italy, Gulf states, and Oceania have returned in the Vasai-Virar belt

Over 600 people have been home quarantined in the Vasai Virar area
Over 600 people have been home quarantined in the Vasai Virar area

The Vasai-Virar region of Palghar district, where officials said a thousand-plus people returned from abroad following the Coronavirus outbreak, is struggling to cope with the numbers.

The area has eight primary health centres (PHCs), but they are overwhelmed by lack of protective gear for workers, just one home-quarantine stamp that they all share, and just one person who collects swabs and transports it to the testing centre at Kasturba Hospital in one vehicle.

So far, officials have recorded 606 people – most of whom have returned from the US, Italy, the Gulf states and the Oceania region – as being home-quarantined.

District Health Officer Dr Dayanand Suryawanshi said that 20 of those in home-quarantine have exhibited symptoms, and 18 of these tested negative. Results for two are awaited. "We are taking regular health updates from them," he said.

But PHC workers on the field, who have been working round the clock said that they have not been given a list of travellers from abroad yet.

"How will we identify and quarantine travellers with just one stamp?" asked a government doctor working in Vasai.

"Neighbours and a few sensible people with foreign travel history came forward. But a large number of travellers are yet to be identified. This is why the number of symptomatic people or of those in self-isolation is less in the state," said another doctor. The doctor said one in five of the 150 people in self-isolation and kept under close observation are exhibiting symptoms. "But there is no testing kit available," said another. "Also, there is just one person to collect nasal and throat swabs. The number of swab collectors must be increased."

Patients standing in a queue at a distance from each other at DM Petit Municipal Hospital, Vasai. PIC/hanif patelPatients standing in a queue at a distance from each other at DM Petit Municipal Hospital, Vasai.Pic/Hanif Patel

Only one vehicle is used to take the swabs to Kasturba Hospital, which takes six to eight hours to give results. A private centre in the region is equipped to test samples, but takes 48 hours to generate a report. "If local testing centres can be established, we can tame the spread lesser time," said the doctor.

The lockdown and lack of transport have also been slowing down the process. A female health worker has had to walk for a few kilometres, and hitch rides. "I live in Nalasopara and there are no autorickshaws. Today a policeman dropped me. I am completely exhausted after work."

Alleging that senior health officials are in denial about the extent of the problem in the outskirts, another PHC worker said they do not even have enough Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). mid-day spotted frontline workers, who deal directly with quarantined people, sporting paper masks and their own aprons.

"It is inexcusable. The government should think about providing PPE in far-flung areas," said a senior state government medical practitioner.

DHO Dr Suryawanshi said he has now got the details of travellers from the government. He claimed his department has distributed 1,200 hand sanitisers, 250 N95 masks for doctors and those collecting swabs, and 2,000 surgical masks for health workers in the district. "Yes, some of our health workers have been travelling in their own vehicles as they have to travel only locally to meet quarantined people. Every PHC has its own ambulance and own vehicles."

On the issue of testing, he said till recently, the district sent samples to three centres in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur, but had to stop as the centres were overwhelmed. "We will start sending samples to private labs soon," he said.

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