COVID-19 Crisis: What Next for Mumbai When the Lockdown Lifts?

“COVID is here and it’s a part of life now,” Mumbai health and civic experts analyse what lies ahead for the city. 

Updated
India
5 min read
Mumbai health and civic experts analyse what lies ahead for the city.
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As 3 May draws closer, people across the country have already begun anticipating whether the lockdown will be lifted, relaxed or re-imposed in their respective regions. Mumbaikars, however, may have to wait slightly longer. Out of over 8,500 COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra as of 27 April, Mumbai has recorded over 5,500 cases.

With an average of 300 people testing positive for the virus daily, the Maharashtra government is not likely to take any chances. Ministers in the state cabinet have been repeatedly dropping hints of the lockdown likely being extended further.

When the lockdown does eventually lift however, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government will be faced with a monumental task of reviving essential industries, combat spike in healthcare demands and maintain law and order. Here are some of the essential services in India’s financial capital that will need immediate attention to ensure their revival is seamless.

Tackling COVID-19 Hotspots

Once the lockdown is lifted, Mumbai is likely to witness a sharp spike in the number of COVID-19 cases. This could put further strain on an already burdened healthcare infrastructure. Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Jaslok Hospital, Dr Om Srivastava, believes continuous practice of social distancing is one of the key ways to win the fight against COVID-19 in the long run.

“We shouldn’t go back to being the non-social distancer that we were. We have gotten here after so much effort all over the country. COVID is here and it’s a part of life now. It’s not going to simply disappear one night. Probably will disappear in just one given day but that’s not visible anywhere in the horizon right now.”
Dr Om Srivastava, Director of Infectious Diseases at Jaslok Hospital 

The biggest challenge that lies ahead is the asymptomatic carrier of the disease, says Dr Srivastava and the only way to stop the spread of COVID-19 unknowingly is social distancing. Hotspots in the city, however, need to be dealt with in a slightly different manner. Areas like Worli Koliwada, Dharavi, and many other slums in the city have emerged as hotspots.

Practising social distancing in the densely populated slums of Mumbai would be extremely difficult once restrictions are lifted. Acknowledging this challenge, Dr Srivastava feels that a different strategy should be employed at hotspots once lockdown is lifted.

“Any place which is a hotspot, you will have to have a different strategy about ensuring that restrictions are not lifted in that kind of an area in a hurry. If you do that, you would have reversed all the gains that you have made in a hurry. Hotspots will need to be tackled with a combination of kid gloves and an iron hand, he said.”

“You have to restrict the movement of people coming in and out of these areas, monitor them. You need to have a clear idea of how many people are being seen and met by any one individual in hotspots.”
Dr Om Srivastava, Director of Infectious Diseases at Jaslok Hospital 

Focus on Informal Settlements

With the pandemic unlikely to go away anytime soon, urban planning experts in Mumbai highlight two areas that should be the government’s focus in the near future- informal settlements and public transport systems.

Mumbai’s local trains carry lakhs of passengers daily; thousands of Mumbaikars commute on BEST buses every day. COVID-19 is now making administrators rethink the existing modes of travel. With public transit systems in New York and Singapore emerging as the hubs for infection, Professor Amita Bhide, Dean of School of Habitat Studies at TISS points out that we will be witnessing a huge increase in infection once the public transport starts operating again in Mumbai once the lockdown ends.

“It may be that the government and public systems may be relieved of some of the stress that they are having to take of the relief (transporting essentials) per se but on the other hand, the cases of infection, of contact, is going to increase in much more multiple terms. So, I think every easing of restriction is perhaps like talking about multiples in terms of infection.”
Prof Amita Bhide, Dean, School of Habitat Studies, TISS 

Aside from looking for alternative modes of transport to lessen crowding in local trains and buses, Professor Bhide pointed out the need to ramp up sanitation facilities in the city’s slums.

“We need to ramp up water and sanitation facilities in such settlements and try to see if you can have markets that are more decentralised. How can one make the ward level system more functional? We need to identify community quarantine facilities, rope in more volunteers. So much strength has been shown by civil societies in all of the lockdown. Can we channelise that better and see that we have a volunteer force like Kerala? These are steps that are possible,” she said.

Police Need ‘Soft’ Training

Serving at the frontline of the COVID-19 fight, the Mumbai police has already lost two police constables. 57-year-old Chandrakant Pendurkar and 52-year-old Sandip Surve died to COVID-19. Former Maharashtra Director General of Police, D Sivanandan highlighted the importance of focussing on the welfare of police personnel at a time like this.

“It’s important to see that the police don’t get affected by this disease because they are doing a 12-hour job. Can we give them vitamin C, vitamin D and various other things to ensure they develop stamina? Anything preventive that doctors suggest. Can we give them nutritious meals, clean drinking water among other things?”
D Sivanandan, Former DGP, Maharashtra 

The Mumbai police are battling an unprecedented crisis which is only likely to worsen once the lockdown in lifted. Soft skills could come in handy at a time like this, believes the ex-DGP. Making optimum use of softwares that aid in detecting crime could give the Mumbai police could keep tabs on sensitive areas.

“One thing is, controlling science and technology use and misuse for law and order. We should have labs all over the place to monitor what is happening on social media, WhatsApp and various other things. We have to completely quell with ruthlessness the spreading of these messages. We can use drones in areas like Dharavi and find out, reach out, anticipate, watch social media movement.”
D Sivanandan, Former DGP, Maharashtra 

Reorienting the training of police personnel is the need of the hour, says Sivanandan. He also points out that that once the lockdown ends, cases of theft and domestic violence being reported are likely to rise as people can finally move out of their homes, take stock of the situation and file police complaints with ease.

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