Mumbai: Here's how JJ Marg police station overcame the battle against COVID-19

Updated: Jun 07, 2020, 07:17 IST | Prutha Bhosle | Mumbai

The JJ Marg Police Station, one of the worst hit by Coronavirus cases in Maharashtra, hasn't seen a single death. Survivors and senior officers recount the battle

A total of 46 cops attached to JJ Marg Police Station have tested positive so far. Pic/Suresh Karkera
A total of 46 cops attached to JJ Marg Police Station have tested positive so far. Pic/Suresh Karkera

With just a week left before he resumes work, assistant police inspector (API) Farid Khan says his bag is packed and he is ready to go. It is the same bag of essentials that Khan had decided to take to JJ Marg Police Station on May 6, when the number of COVID-19 cases shot up across the city, indicating his job was only going to get tougher. "Many of our senior police officers have been working nonstop, without seeing family for weeks. Being a frontline worker comes with health risks, so I decided to pack my bag and stay at the police station till the situation normalises so that I don't mingle with my family," Khan, 39, remembers. But that same day, Khan experienced mild symptoms of the Coronavirus. "After a colleague tested positive, those who had come in immediate contact with him were asked to get tested.

On May 4, my results came negative. But the next day on, I started feeling extremely weak. First I thought it must be because I was observing Ramzan roza, but I had never experienced something like this before. I had a terrible cold, and my temperature shot up," says Khan, who has been posted at JJ Marg Police Station since 2017. On May 8, Khan's report came positive.

An aerial view shows the JJ Marg police station sharing a boundary wall with the state-run JJ Hospital, one of the biggest medical facilities in the city. Pic/Shadab Khan
An aerial view shows the JJ Marg police station sharing a boundary wall with the state-run JJ Hospital, one of the biggest medical facilities in the city. Pic/Shadab Khan

As of June 1, the total number of Maharashtra Police personnel who have got infected with COVID-19 crossed 2,500. Nearly 1,500 of them are from the Mumbai Police. A total of 533 have recovered and 1,758 others have been asked to observe home quarantine.

When the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24, the police force had little time to prepare. "We were immediately assigned roles; some were executing naka bandi operations, others were deployed at crowded places to ensure social distancing was followed, and the remaining were patrolling and creating awareness among citizens. My job was to decongest Null Bazar as shoppers from Byculla to Girgaum would throng here to stock up on vegetables and other supplies," says Khan. He would ensure everyone was wearing masks and that the market was shut after the stipulated hour.

After PSI Shamsundar Bhise and his wife tested positive, their kids, aged 2 and 10, were taken to their hometown in Sangli to be with their relatives
After PSI Shamsundar Bhise and his wife tested positive, their kids, aged 2 and 10, were taken to their hometown in Sangli to be with their relatives

Head constable Ashok Eitkar was supposed to accompany Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Avinash Dharmadhikari when he would step out of JJ Marg Police Station on routine rounds. "I would help him with naka bandi in Dongri and JJ jurisdictions to ensure nobody was stepping out of their homes, and violating lockdown norms for non-emergency reasons," says the 48-year-old Dombivli resident, who accepted his JJ Marg Police Station posting in 2015.

By the end of April, a constable attached to JJ Marg tested positive. "Panic struck all the officers attached to JJ. But, we knew we had been taking safety precautions, so hoped that the infection wouldn't spread," recalls Eitkar.

API Farid Khan was welcomed with applause when he returned to his Thane home after recovery
API Farid Khan was welcomed with applause when he returned to his Thane home after recovery

However, in a few weeks, the police station was declared the worst-affected in the state, with 46 policemen having tested positive for the infection. ACP Dharmadhikari, who has not seen his wife and son in weeks, explains why. "The JJ Marg police station shares a boundary wall with the state-run JJ Hospital, which is one of the biggest medical facilities in the city. While JJ was not taking in COVID patients, it was conducting tests for the infection so a lot of people from across the city would turn up. As we share a common wall, they would access the gates of the police station to reach the hospital. We are certain that this is why the number of cases rose among our officers."

While Khan got admitted to Vedant Hospital in Thane on May 8, Eitkar, who had been coughing for almost a week and tested positive on May 21, got admitted to Shastri Nagar General Hospital in Dombivli. "Our seniors arranged for ambulances to take us; they'd constantly check up on us. Five days after I was admitted, my temperature came down and I slowly realised what all was happening around me." However, both Vedant and Shastri Nagar hospitals were overcrowded and lacked basic hygiene. "Twelve of us were using the same loo for a week; if I had to stay in that facility for another day, I would not have recovered," adds Khan.

So on May 18, Khan took a discharge against medical advisory (DAMA), and took shelter at his friend's hotel Al Haram, which had been turned into a quarantine facility by the BMC. "While I was recovering here, my family was tested as per government guidelines. My wife and 10-year-old son tested negative, but my three-year-old daughter was confirmed positive. I broke down," Khan says, adding how as per the suggestions of Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC), his daughter was looked after at their Thane home for the next 25 days. "I've got incredible neighbours and relatives, who helped my wife. She finally recovered, as have I, and we reunited on May 29."

Eitkar took a while to reach his happy ending. "At Shastri Hospital, I wasn't being paid attention to; they had a lot of patients, so I understood their challenges. But despite medicines, when my cough was not getting cured, I told sir [ACP Dharmadhikari] to shift me to another facility." Eitkar was moved to Holy Cross Hospital in Kalyan on May 24. "Doctors here said that I would be charged R40,000 for two injections as my cough was not going away. I again called sir, who told me to get the treatment I needed and that he would bear my medical costs." Eitkar declined and insisted that he be taken to civic facility Nair Hospital instead. "Finally, after four days at Nair, I started recovering and have been in home quarantine since May 29. Just when I thought things would normalise, my wife and 19-year-old son were confirmed positive."

As Eitkar is restricted from visiting his family—currently in a Dombivli hospital—he speaks to them over the phone, sharing the benefits of pranayama. "I know there is no evidence that yoga can protect one against COVID-19, but I don't want them to take a chance. When I was admitted, I would do my breathing exercises regularly, and I think that helped me get better."

As many as 30 police personnel in Maharashtra have died of the disease, and 18 of them belonged to the Mumbai Police. Interestingly, JJ Marg station hasn't seen a single casualty. Shamsundar Bhise, who was posted at JJ police station as police sub-inspector (PSI) in July 2018, says, "When I was doing naka bandi at Sriram Nene Chowk, Null Bazar and Bhendi Bazaar, I was wearing a mask and gloves at all times. All of us have gone through rigorous training before and after being recruited in the force. I believe that our bodies are built now to be immune to infections, unlike civilians. We didn't imagine we'd fall prey to the virus like this. I think the men in khaki forgot to police themselves."

Bhise, who lives in Ghansoli with his wife, 10-year-old son and two-year-old daughter, tested positive on May 1. "On April 26, after returning home from a late night shift, I began to feel weak. I cooked myself dinner and went to sleep. I told the local doctor that it must be on account of having taken a cold shower after working out the previous day," Bhise recalls. But by April 30, he had to get the test done. When the BMC tested his family, his wife tested positive. A chat with seniors later, the department arranged for two constables to take Bhise's kids to his hometown in Sangli. "We got the travel pass made, and my sister-in-law took them to Sangli where they were home quarantined."

On May 11 and 14, both Bhise and his wife got discharged and were sent home. "Five days ago, I video-called my daughter in Sangli. I saw her face after a month. I can't wait to bring her back, but I know the wait is going to be longer," Bhise shares.

Khan, Eitkar and Bhise returned home to cheers when their society members arranged a welcome ceremony for beating the Coronavirus. "It felt amazing; like a war had ended," Khan smiles.

Currently, the JJ Marg Police Station, which has a staff of 220 cops, is working at less than half its strength. "There are only 15 to 20 officers on duty after 46 tested positive, 65 who came in contact with these people were quarantined and 34 of them above the age of 55 were sent home on leave. As officers have slowly started to resume duty, we are ensuring that their morale is high. Apart from keeping vitamin and immunity-boosting pills handy, we have also shut the gates so that patients use the main gate to reach the JJ Hospital," ACP Dharmadhikari says.

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