Mumbai: 1 room, 5 people, how do we home quarantine?, asks COVID-19 patient

Updated: May 15, 2020, 14:28 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Woman living in Mumbai chawl asks after being told to leave quarantine centre and self-isolate at home with mother-in-law

Several asymptomatic patients at NSCI have been told to home-quarantine. Pic/ Bipin Kokate
Several asymptomatic patients at NSCI have been told to home-quarantine. Pic/ Bipin Kokate

We live in a single-room chawl. How will we self-isolate here? Why are we shunted out of quarantine facilities even before our reports come back negative?” asks an asymptomatic COVID-19 patient who lives with her daughter, husband and his parents in Worli.

As asymptomatic COVID-19 cases are being discharged and told to stay in home quarantine, those who live in chawl rooms of barely 180-225 sqft with five to seven family members in it are concerned about transmitting COVID-19 to others. Many of them live with vulnerable senior citizens most of whom have ailments like diabetes, hypertension and even cardiac or neurological issues.

“Our [the woman and her mother-in-law] samples were first taken on April 25 and the report came back positive. We were then sent to the quarantine centre at NSCI. On May 1, we tested negative, but on May 4 our report came back positive, but we were still told to home quarantine ourselves. I have a four-year-old daughter. How can we stay with our family in a single room. Who will be responsible if anything happens to my family?” asked the woman who lives in BDD chawl, Worli. Several other asymptomatic patients at the NSCI Centre were told to home-quarantine after their reports came back negative.

Senior allergy and asthma specialist Dr Wiqar Shaikh feared that in Mumbai, where space constraints are an issue and which already is a COVID-19 red zone, there is a high risk of community spread of not only COVID-19, but soon monsoon-related ailments too.

mid-day had, on Tuesday, reported 'Monsoon ailments may worsen COVID situation' and a day later, Chief Minister Udhav Thackeray directed district authorities to be prepared to deal with monsoon related ailments.

Pointing to the Centre's directives on home quarantine, Dr Shaikh said, “The Union health ministry guidelines' important points are: a) stay in well ventilated single room, with attached, separate toilet, if another family member needs to stay in the same room, it is advisable that the two maintain a distance of at least one meter; b) it is important for elderly people, pregnant woman, children and patients with comorbidities to stay away from the quarantined person. But, unfortunately, these guidelines cannot be followed in slums and chawls.”

Quarantine at centre

Dr Shaikh suggested that the asymptomatic COVID-19 patients should be compulsorily quarantined at designated centres for 14 days, before they are sent back home.

Advocate Godfrey Pimenta, who is also the founder-trustee of Watchdog Foundation, said, “We have been receiving numerous complaints wherein people even after showing symptoms do not want to go to quarantine centres, fearing social stigma. While those who come forward are admitted at the centres for a few days and then sent to home quarantine, which is impossible, in shanties and chawls. They need to follow the central health ministry guidelines, failing which we will write to the CM and central health officials.”

Educate patients

Dr Ketan Vagholkar, professor of surgery at D Y Patil medical college, agreed that maintaining social distance for many is difficult. In such a case, asymptomatic patients should be educated about COVID-19 related complications so that they seek immediate medical help as soon as they start showing symptoms. There is also a need to uproot the stigma attached to the disease, he said, adding that quarantine centres can rope in health counsellors to educate patients at the time of discharge.

Community spread

Dr Wiqar Shaikh added, “The average slum house in India is 100 sq feet and around 1,440 people share one public toilet in Dharavi. While in New York there are 10,000 people per sq km, in Dharavi, there are 5,76,923 people per sq km. Of these, 78 per cent lack water (which means the person need to carry his own water that is stored in drums and cans). In India, 29 per cent of the population and in Mumbai 62 per ent lives in slums. Under these circumstances, it is impossible for a slum dweller or a chawl dweller in Mumbai, to home quarantine. In this scenario, Mumbai, which is already a red zone, is at high risk of community spread of COVID as well as monsoon related ailments.”

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