Some countries in Africa pose a considerable risk to Covid-19 due to inadequate health facilities. There is great concern about the discovery of a patient with the new coronavirus in India. The man lived in Dharavi near Mumbai. That is the largest slum in Asia. More than a million people live in an area of about two hectares. The government has now started a race against time to stop the virus.
It was exactly two weeks ago – on March 23 – that a 56-year-old clothing dealer from Dharavi went to a local doctor for a fever and an ugly cough. The doctor examined the man and gave him a prescription for cough syrup and acetaminophen.
Three days later, the man sought help again, this time in a hospital near his home. His fever had gone up, and his cough had gotten worse. He assured that he had not been traveling, and the doctors then gave him some more cough syrup. He was allowed to go home again.
On March 29, the man returned to the hospital with breathing difficulties. This time the doctors did take him in and did a corona test. The results came in three days later: the man was positive. His condition deteriorated further, and the doctors tried to take him to a specialized hospital, where more corona patients were being treated. However, it turned out to be too late. The man died that same evening. He turned out to be the very first corona patient from the gigantic Dharavi slum. All alarm bells rang immediately.
Patient Number 1 was found to live in a 54 square meter flat with his wife, four daughters and two sons, in a low-rise building enclosed by slums. According to his family, he had not recently traveled. He went to the local mosque alone. Soon it turned out that more was going on.
After all, the man turned out to own a second flat in the building, and he had five people staying there. They had just arrived from the Indian capital of Delhi, where they had attended a meeting of a religious organization: Tablighi Jamaat in early March. Hundreds of attendees spread the virus across the country from there.
The five had only stayed in with the man in No. 1’s apartment for two days – March 19 to 21 – and then left. The government is now trying to locate them, hoping to pinpoint the source of the infection. In addition, the victim’s smartphone is used in an attempt to reconstruct where the man has been.
Three hundred eight apartments and 80 shops in the six-story apartment building where the trader lived are entirely isolated from the outside world. Two thousand five hundred people are quarantined at home. They are given food, and their homes are disinfected with bleach. Patient No. 1’s family had already undergone a corona test, which fortunately was negative. One hundred thirty older residents of the complex and 35 people with respiratory diseases are closely monitored for corona symptoms, British public broadcaster BBC reports.
The city council of Mumbai, therefore, wants to prevent the virus from erupting in the slums at all costs. In the meantime, private hospital with 50 beds has been ordered for corona patients, and a sports club has been converted into an emergency hospital with 300 beds. Protective equipment was distributed to the doctors and nurses working there.
The question is whether the efforts will be successful. On Thursday, a 35-year-old doctor who lives in the slum area tested positive. Immediately the building where he lives – and the 300 residents in it – was put in lockdown. According to the doctor, two nurses in the hospital where he works would also have taken a positive test.
More positive tests came last weekend of a 30-year-old woman in the same building as Patient Number 1, of a 60-year-old trader and a 21-year-old laboratory technician.
Vinod Shetty of the non-profit organization Acorn Foundation – which works for the garbage collectors in the slums – sees it with sad eyes. “People live here with 10 to 12 people in huts of 3 meters by 3,” said the man at news channel Bloomberg. “They share a public toilet for every 80 residents. You can’t expect them to stay all day indoors.” “Social distancing is an illusion here.”
The residents themselves are also worried about what can happen if the virus erupts in the slum. “Only God can save us then,” said local trader Raju Korde. “We will have to rely on our own resistance. That’s all we can do.”