Representational image. | Image Courtesy: New Indian Express
On July 8, Mumbai city had 23,543 active patients of COVID-19. The total number of deaths in city due to the virus were 5,064. On the other hand, Thane district had 30,063 active patients on the same day, a number substantially higher than neighbouring Mumbai. Its death toll was at 1,417.
The total number of patients in Mumbai are 87,856 of which 59,238 have been cured. In Thane, the total number of patients were 52,733 of which 21,252 were cured. The numbers show that Thane is posing a more serious threat as compared to Mumbai, with the data revealing a range of repercussions.
Thane district has six municipal corporations. The data for each city is as follows:
Apart from these numbers, Thane Rural has 7,065 patients and 131 deaths, with a fatality rate of 1.85%
The state of Maharashtra has the highest number of COVID-19 patients in India. The total number of patients in the state on July 8 was 2,23,724, with the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 at 9448. The state’s fatality rate is 4.22% greater than Thane’s fatality rate at 2.68%.
While the highest number of patients and deaths have been reported from Mumbai, the numbers are slowing down. The higher number of active patients are now found in Thane district. The fact has become a matter of serious concern for the Maharashtra government. In a recent meeting with state government officials, an expert team from the Centre expressed concerns about Thane as well. The three-member team also visited various locations in the district for a better assessment of the situation.
The story of 72-year-old Bhalchandra Gaikwad exposes Thane city's coordination issues. On July 2, Gaikwad. who was admitted to Thane's COVID hospital, was untraceable. The same day, another patient, 67-year-old Janardan Sonavane was admitted to the hospital. On July 3, the hospital informed Sonavane's family that the patient was dead. As dead bodies are wrapped inside special bags meant to suppress further spread of the disease, no one is allowed to see the body. Sonavane’s family was present during the cremation.
Later, Gaikwad's family inquired about his health. At that time, the hospital administration realised that Gaikwad was missing. When they began looking for him they realised that the body they handed over to Sonavane’s family was not actually his – it was Gaikwad's. On July 7, Sonavane died as well. Renuka, Gaikwad's daughter-in-law was angry when she spoke to NewsClick. "It is now that the municipality has clarified this; we will have to accept that. We do not even know if the body that was cremated was really our father’s," she said. The incident sheds light on the situation in Thane at the moment.
There are three major challenges in Thane as of now. The first is arranging enough medical staff while the second is upgrading the infrastructure. The third pertains to co-ordination. To remedy the latter problem, Thane municipality has prepared a dashboard to keep patients updated about the availability of services. A similar dashboard will be launched for the entire district soon.
Reports from Dombivali and Navi Mumbai mention that private doctors are not allowing patients with even mild symptoms to be treated in their hospitals. It is one of several reasons why patients are getting delayed treatment. To overcome this, Dr. Shashank Joshi, member of the state's task force on COVID-19, addressed a webinar of about one thousand doctors from the district. He appealed them to not delay the admission of patients. “If you think the patient is serious then transfer him to the COVID centre, but do not refuse to treat. This is the only way to reduce the number of patients and also the control fatality rate," said Dr Joshi.
The lack of infrastructure has also posed another major challenge. Recently, a 35-year-old shopkeeper from Kalyan died on the Bhiwandi Bypass Road COVID-19 centre due to the unavailability of an ICU bed. There are other cases from Mira Bhayndar and Navi Mumbai as well.
According to Thane district collectorate, infrastructure is being looked into. “We are rapidly increasing infrastructure in all corners of district. In Thane, we have increased the capacity to three thousand beds. Kalyan Dombivali has almost 200 beds while Navi Mumbai has 1200 beds; Bhiwandi has one thousand beds and Ambarnath Badlapur also has about 300 beds. Around 4,000 more beds will be added within the next two weeks. We are using the current lockdown period to increase the infrastructure," said District Collector Ravindra Narvekar.
The lack of medical staff is another major challenge. Thane collectorate has asked all the commissioners of cities to involve private doctors in greater numbers. "Fifty private doctors have joined the task force. We are also recruiting health staff in city corporations. The process of recruitment has already started in Thane and Navi Mumbai," said Eknath Shinde, guardian minister of Thane.
Thane district is in close proximity with Mumbai and is highly connected to it. The current spurt in cases is being blamed on people travelling to-and-from Mumbai. After the state government partially lifted restrictions in Mumbai, many employees of different private companies started travelling to Mumbai.
A highly-placed officer in the Maharashtra Secretariat told NewsClick that the increase in the number of COVID-19 patients was expected. “Look at Mumbai’s numbers, they increased rapidly as well. However, Mumbai upgraded its health infrastructure and aggressive testing was done. The result was that the virus’ growth was contained. Thane missed that period,” said the officer.
"The Maharashtra government’s first focus was Mumbai, which was obvious. But during that period itself, Thane should have been handled more carefully. Now we are paying the price for it," said a senior Shiv Sena leader from Thane.
Senior journalist and Editor of Lokmat's Thane edition, Sandeep Pradhan, blamed an “ignorant” political leadership. “Thane district has been growing since the 1980's, but look at the public health infrastructure. Hospitals are lacking in basic treatment facilities. The ignorance over the decades is now showing its effect," said Pradhan.
To control the spread of the novel coronavirus, the state government has now given the local administration the authority to decide on the nature of lockdown in their respective areas. While restrictions in the rest of the state have been eased, Thane is under a strict lockdown till July 12. There are clear indications that the period will be extended for at least another week.
Thane district is also the state's major industrial hub with Navi Mumbai under it. There are a total of eight special industrial zones, three special industrial estates and one industrial town in the district. The lockdown has already brought industrial activity to a standstill.
According to Industry department's primary estimates, the current lockdown in Thane district will cost between Rs 700 crore and Rs 900 crore. If the lockdown is extended further, losses are bound to increase.
Thane district also provides a large number of employees to Mumbai's banking and service industries. The current lockdown will hamper those services in Mumbai. Also, the skilled labour force like carpenters, electricians and unorganised labour is largely from Thane district. The impact of Thane's lockdown will be severe for the rest of the Mumbai Metropolitan Area.
Thane is also a hotspot of the real-estate industry. The industry has been facing serious challenges for the last two years, especially after demonetisation and the introduction of RERA. The lockdown will add to their pain. On the other hand, it will also affect small-scale industries and the unorganised labour attached with it. Stamp Duty is the state's second- highest source of income after GST. The extended lockdown will ultimately result in losses for the state's treasury.
The Indian Council of Medical Research, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and the state's epidemiology department has conducted a sero survey in Thane and have collected samples from all the cities in Thane. The results of this survey are awaited. However, the situation on the ground suggests that the health emergency is more severe than what is being told by the government.