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Docs, Cops to BMC: Mumbai’s Heroes Battle COVID-19 From Frontlines

“We do get worried but it’s our job, we have to do it,” govt employees in Mumbai tackle coronavirus amid scare. 

Published
India
7 min read
Mumbai’s doctors, BMC health department workers and  police are playing a crucial role in tackling COVID-19
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As most people continue to work from home in a bid to practice social distancing to fight coronavirus, a section of Mumbaikars soldier on as silent heroes to make the city slightly safer each day.

From tracing suspected patients to ensuring public transport systems are kept clean as precautionary measures, government employees in the BMC’s health department workers, doctors, cleaners and even the police are working round the clock.

The Quint spoke to some of these heroes who are tackling the coronavirus threat head on from the frontlines.

BMC Health Workers Go Door to Door

Ujjwala Gholap, an ANM (auxiliary nurse midwife) with the BMC, sets about making her rounds in Dharavi from 9 am daily. Ujjwala is among hundreds of workers who go door to door in areas designated to them to find people who have travelled overseas recently and details about where they visited, their return date, tracing their contact upon returning to the city.

“We get a list from our wards of the people we are supposed to visit and we are expected to find them. We find their address, visit the patient at their home. We take maximum precautions during our visit. We wear a mask, maintain a three-foot distance. We ask the patient about where were they travelling, when did they return. We ask them about their family.”
Ujjwala Gholap, ANM at Pila Bungalow Aarogya Kendra 
Ujjwala Gholap (right) pays a visit to a family. 
Ujjwala Gholap (right) pays a visit to a family. 
(Photo Courtesy: Dr Amruta Bawaskar)
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Ujjwala and the team she is a part of survey apartments and slums in Dharavi. They end up meeting at least 1,000 people daily. This is a huge risk for the workers and their families. Precautions are not to be taken lightly.

“As soon as we head back to own homes from work, we wash our hands with a sanitiser before opening the lock. I leave my bag aside and head straight to the washroom and wash myself with soap, change my clothes and then sit down. We (other workers) have also told our kids to follow the same precautions. Even at our own home, we talk to each other from a three-foot distance.”
Ujjwala Gholap, ANM at Pila Bungalow Aarogya Kendra 

“We do get worried but it’s our job, we have to do it,” she adds.

Assistant Medical Officer Dr Amruta Bawaskar, who supervises Ujjwala and her team’s tasks, emphasised the extreme precautions that the team needs to take every time they make a door to door visit. This is amplified when the person being visited has a history of recent international travel.

Dr Amruta Bawaskar and her team.
Dr Amruta Bawaskar and her team.
(Photo courtesy: Dr Amruta Bawaskar)

“I have my team take sanitisers while visiting these houses, wear masks and then check the history. We are asked not to enter anyone’s house unless and until it is required. If there is any history of them travelling overseas recently, you can take down their phone number, call them on their phone or via the intercom. If there is no phone, then you can visit them at their home but keep a three-foot distance from them and wear a mask,” said Dr Amruta Bawaskar, Assistant Medical Officer.

“Luckily, there have been no positive cases from here yet. So, we are just taking their history”, she adds.

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The Dilemma of Doctors

With Maharashtra witnessing the highest number of cases in the country, that is at least 47, hospitals across the state have been busy for over a month now. Speaking to The Quint, Dr SP Kalantri, who is the Director Professor of Medicine at MGIMS Sevagram, said that the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (MGIMS) in Sevagram has restructured the way they work.

With at least 2,500 outpatients visiting the hospital daily and at least 116 being admitted, special provisions have been made to treat them.

“We created a special OPD outside the front space of the hospital. This is manned by our residents, interns and doctors. They are screening all these patients and asking a couple of questions, like, if they travelled abroad in the last few months, come in contact with a COVID positive patient, have a runny nose, sore throat, cough, cold, fever, etc. It has been four days since we started this OPD and every day we see 200 such outpatients.”
Dr SP Kalantri, Director Professor of Medicine, MGIMS Sevagram 
Dr SP Kalantri attends a patient.
Dr SP Kalantri attends a patient.
(Photo courtesy: Dr SP Kalantri)

Burdened with an increasing number of patients and shortage of supplies like surgical masks, that are 20 times more expensive now, the doctors are doing their best to make do with limited resources.

“In my OPD, I see close to 150 to 200 patients every day. So, it is humanly impossible for me to wash my hands after every exposure or contact with the patients. There are problems but as much as we can, we are trying to keep social distancing. We have put up boards saying patients with minor illnesses need not come to the hospital. We have restricted the entry of visitors to our hospitals,” said Dr SP Kalantri.

Explaining the dilemma faced by doctors, Dr Kalantri added, “Day before yesterday, one of my resident doctors asked me this question, ‘Doctor, I have a two-year-old kid and 80-year-old father. My father is diabetic. He has got multiple health problems, so I have two such persons at home who if contract COVID-19, it could spell disaster. So, how could I discharge my ethical obligation by looking after patients in the hospital and also be morally responsible for caring for my own family at home?’ They are torn apart because of this dilemma and there are no easy answers.”

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Sanitising Mumbai’s Lifeline - The Local Trains

Local train being sanitised.
Local train being sanitised.
(Photo Courtesy: Sunil Kumar Bairwa)

The maximum city’s lifeline, the local trains, need maximum sanitisation daily to ensure they are safe for commuters. Hundreds of cleaners’ risk coming in contact with the virus to ensure Mumbaikars can travel safe.

Speaking to The Quint, Sunil Kumar Bairwa, who is a Senior Divisional Electrical Engineer (DEE), EMU Carshed, said, “Our responsibilities have increased since the coronavirus threat. Every night, we sanitise all our local trains. Total 134 rigs are stabled in our line daily and we sanitise all of them daily. There are 1,550 coaches in the 12 cars”.

Bairwa is among the other officials who supervise this work all night.

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Sunil Kumar Bairwa supervises a cleaner sanitising a train coach.
Sunil Kumar Bairwa supervises a cleaner sanitising a train coach.
(Photo Courtesy: Sunil Kumar Bairwa)
“Around 100 to 125 people are involved in cleaning these trains daily but we have additionally engaged 60-65 staff members to sanitise these trains. They wear masks, hand gloves and clean all the areas that come into contact with passengers, like grab handles, seat areas, door handles, whichever area is touched by the passenger, is sanitised. We then supervise this at night and take photos and videos and inspect is the work is taking place efficiently.”
Sunil Kumar Bairwa, Senior Divisional Electrical Engineer (DEE), EMU Carshed 

While the number of commuters who take the Mumbai local trains have dwindled over the last few days, the cleaners are still at risk.

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Mumbai Police Take Precautions Against COVID-19

Mumbai Ppolice personnel too have been taking maximum precaution by wearing masks and maintaining social distance. Aside from this, the police are also extra cautious about sanitising police stations every time they have a visitor.

Mumbai Police take necessary precautions while working.  
Mumbai Police take necessary precautions while working.  
(Photo Courtesy: Sanjay Mohite)
“Naturally, people tend to raise their hands for a handshake. So, we just laugh and tell them that for the time being, it is namaskar and we will not shake hands. We are cleaning our building. If someone comes and goes and we don’t know if they are positive or negative, we are cleaning our tables, chair’s armrest, doorknobs two to three times. We are doing this on a regular basis.” 
Sanjay Mohite, PI (Crime), Colaba Police Station 

He added that over the last few days, Mumbai has barely seen any crowds even at usually busy spots, like the Gateway of India.

Inspector Mohite also had a message for Mumbaikars that could further help police officials remain safe:

“Please come to the police station when it is necessary. If it is unavoidable and there is no option, only then come here and we are here to help you. But matters which can be postponed, like property matter related complaints, you can handle that after 15 days or even after a month. It won’t make a difference. Such matters can be postponed,” he said.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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