Mumbai high-rises report spike in COVID-19 cases, but implementation of sealing norms patchy; BMC puts onus on housing societies

Even as Mumbai breathes a sigh of relief over the slowdown of the coronavirus outbreak in slum clusters, high-rises are emerging as the new areas of concern.

Mumbai high-rises report spike in COVID-19 cases, but implementation of sealing norms patchy; BMC puts onus on housing societies

As Mumbai breathes a sigh of relief over the slowdown of the coronavirus outbreak in slum clusters, high-rises are emerging as new areas of concern. An indication of this is a sharp rise in the number of sealed buildings — from 4,071 on 9 June to 5,205 on 17 June — according to data from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s daily reports.

As per media reports, there have been an increasing number of cases in residential complexes in various areas of the city, including D ward (Grant Road) and T ward (Mulund). In D ward, 379 new COVID-19 cases have been reported since the Unlock 1.0 phase began on 1 June. Of these, 320 cases were from high-rises, according to a report in India Today.

Mumbai highrises report spike in COVID19 cases but implementation of sealing norms patchy BMC puts onus on housing societies

Representational image. Courtesy: Neerad Pandharipande.

In this context, enforcement of sealing of buildings in which coronavirus cases have been reported assumes greater significance. Speaking to Firstpost, Daksha Shah, deputy executive health officer in the BMC said, “The BMC has issued a detailed circular on how the sealing of buildings is to be enforced. However, once a building or a floor in a building is sealed, the onus is on the housing society to make sure that there is no movement in and out of that particular area.”

On 18 May, the BMC had issued a revised protocol for sealing of buildings, according to which, in certain cases, the entire building does not need to be sealed, and only the floor on which a COVID-19 positive case was found can be sealed. However, depending on the situation, the entire building can also be sealed and the decision regarding this is to be taken based on the local situation.

Tanaji Kamble, deputy public relations officer (PRO) in the BMC, stated that the figure of 5,205 sealed buildings from the civic body’s recent report includes both entire buildings and individual floors.

According to the protocol mentioned above, housing societies are supposed to ensure that containment measures are strictly followed. The protocol also advises housing societies to tie up with local vendors and medical stores to ensure the supply of essentials to people living in the area that has been sealed.

With enforcement of containment measures such as these having been partially left to housing societies, there are differences in the extent to which restrictions are being imposed. Two residential complexes in Bandra (E) that were sealed recently (referred to in the rest of the article as ‘A’ and ‘B’ to protect patients' identities) show the variations in how sealing was put into practice.

In building A, two people from the same family tested positive for coronavirus on 30 April.

The next day, the floor and flat were fumigated and sanitised by BMC officials, said a member of the building committee’s COVID-19 team.

The wing in which the patients, a senior citizen and his domestic helper, lived was then sealed and movement was restricted for 14 days.

“The specific instruction from the BMC was only that we must not leave our houses ‘as far as possible’. Since the cases were detected in the second phase of the lockdown, the discretion of coming and going was left to the building committee and the residents,” he said.

He added that the committee decided to continue with its rules from the first phase, which stipulated that one member from each flat could step out for essentials once a day.

The cases in building ‘A’ were detected through the contact-tracing conducted by the BMC after a staff member of a hospital in the neighbourhood tested positive.

A staff member of the Gurunanak Hospital underwent a COVID-19 test after the civic body took over the hospital in the last week of April.

The BMC acquired the hospital as an exclusive treatment centre for its own employees and front line police personnel who tested positive for COVID-19 .

Recalling the norms that were in place during the sealing of the building, a housing society member said, “All the residents, even those not living in the affected wing, had to fill out a ‘symptom tracker’ every day and the information was submitted to the ward health officer. This had to be done for 15 days.”

The family whose member tested COVID-19 positive described the entire process of getting tested, receiving the results and starting treatment for the patient as being “really traumatic. The rest of the family also underwent tests.

“In addition to the official protocol, the stigma associated with a COVID-19 patient was a big cause of stress for us,” said one member, who did not wish to be named.

While one member of each family was allowed to step out in building ‘A’, the norms of sealing were followed more strictly in building ‘B’. In the latter apartment complex, initially, two cases were detected in the same family and only one wing was sealed. However, within a week, there was a second case in another wing. Hence, the building committee decided to seal the whole building for two weeks.

A resident of the building recalled, “We couldn’t step out at all. Whether it was groceries or other essential items, a group of volunteers had arranged to have it delivered inside the building premises.”

She added that every family had to provide details such as the number of family members, the number of senior citizens in each family, prior health conditions, and symptom tracking to the ward health official for 21 days after the latest case was detected.

“My father is a paediatrician and needed to make emergency visits to his patients.  He was initially stopped by the guards, but was allowed to go after explaining the situation,” she said.

For groceries (fruits and vegetables), sellers were called to the premises every alternate day, and each wing of the building was given a time slot of about an hour and a half when residents could come to the lobby and buy items, she added.

“We also had a tie-up with a local grocery store. Everyone placed orders on a Google sheet, and the items would then be delivered to the building. Volunteers would call people to come and pick up their parcels. It was all very methodical,” the resident noted.

Now, with protocols no longer mandating the sealing of an entire building, it has become relatively easier for residents to access essential supplies. An instance of this is an apartment complex in the northwestern suburb of Kandivli (E), where one floor has been sealed on 20 June after a COVID-19 case was reported.

A resident of the floor which has been sealed, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Firstpost, “The sealing of the floor due to a coronavirus case is a matter of concern for us. However, people from our building have promised to provide us whatever help we need. Although we cannot go out at all, essential items such as milk and vegetables are being delivered at our doorstep. We are not facing any problems as of now. However, the sealing was put into place just recently, so we will know what happens in the days to come.”

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