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14 new cases in Dharavi; Fear of community transmission lingers on

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Mumbai: It’s been more than a month of national Pandemic, the sentiment that everything will be just fine in the end is infuriating. “Things will get better” But for whom, EXACTLY? Certainly not for the residents of Dharavi, a slum pocket in Mumbai that reported its 14 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday pushing the total count to 344 as of now. This trend of increasing cases in Dharavi has triggered the fear of a quick spread in this densely populated pocket and underlined the need for rapid containment.

Nearly 20,000 have been screened so far in Dharavi according to a BMC official. The state government has already secluded as many contacts as quickly as possible and all containment zones have been completely cordoned off; despite containing the spread of the virus is proving to be a tough task.

Slum reported its first case on 1 April, in 30 days, 344 dwellers of these slums contracted the virus, pushing up the no. of causalities to eighteen. Dharavi, a sprawl of shanties spread over 240 hectares with a population of 8.3 lakh is nearly 5 km from the residence of Maharashtra Chief Minister.

The underestimation of the magnitude of infections in slums may lead to a haphazard situation for the dwellers. Advanced life support, Intensive Care Unit is less likely to be available for slum residents.

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In the anticipation of these consequences, and considering that home quarantine is not a viable option for Mumbai’s slum, the state government is hiring rooms from local lodge owners to de-congest them and turning sports complexes and schools into COVID-19 care facilities.

“Shelter-in-place” is a luxury of the wealthy. Physical distancing is an alien concept for them in a 220 sqft home, with 12 members in the family, “even to sit has become tough because of lockdown, stepping out to buy essentials give me an excuse to step out of this shanty and breathe freely,” says a resident from the slums.

The government enforced social isolation may help relatively rich populations curb the spread but the same percept can be devastating for these slum dwellers, where physical space is scarce. “Simply-staying-at-home” is rarely an option for them as they need to walk a long distance to fetch water to use at home.

About 50% of India’s more than 33000 cases of COVID-19 are essentially clustered around slums in the cities like Surat, Indore, Mumbai, Pune, Jaipur, and Ahmadabad.

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