With relaxations in lockdown norms rolled out earlier this month as part of `Mission Begin Again’, COVID-19 cases have made a comeback to high-rises in some of the city’s most upscale neighbourhoods.
The BMC’s D Ward, which comprises areas like Malabar Hill, Gamdevi, Pedder Road and Napean Sea Road, is witnessing a sudden spike in coronavirus cases in high-rises, with residential societies allowing entry to house helps and drivers.
The number of cases reported in the ward was just around 25 in May. However, in June the ward witnessed a surge in the number of cases with more than 500 cases registered in just 20 days, BMC officials said.Last week, two residential societies in South Mumbai were sealed by the BMC, after a total of 35 cases were reported in a span of a week.
As many as 14 cases were reported in Sagar Darshan building on Bhulabhai Desai Road and 21 cases in Tahnee Heights on Napean Sea Road. In a span of almost a fortnight, eight cases have surfaced in Everest building on Pedder Road, two cases in Silver Arch building in Breach Candy, and around four cases in Tirupati Apartments near the Mahalaxmi Temple.
Fearing the spread of COVID-19 among drivers, security guards and even house helps, the BMC had suggested that housing societies across Mumbai ban their entry on the premises. However, according to BMC officials, several societies in the ward, and those owning bungalows, did not prevent domestic help from entering, and continued to avail of their services.
"The house help and other staff travel during peak hours and are more likely to contract the disease in the process. They go back home to cramped slum pockets and infect others. This might also lead to a spike in the number of cases in the slum pockets, we fear,” said a senior BMC official.
A majority of COVID-19 patients in the ward are drivers and domestic help, which is compelling residential societies in south Mumbai to rethink the entry of outsiders. However, this has also started a debate in housing societies, among those in favour of the ban on outsiders and those who want house help, no matter what. A maximum number of cases in this "second wave" in D ward have been infected by house help, maids or drivers.
The D-ward initially had patients who had travelled abroad in the past couple of months or had come in contact with relatives or acquaintances having foreign travel history. This trend gradually changed, and there were instances of drivers and security guards contracting the disease through their employers. Now, the trend seems to have reversed again, and the virus has sneaked back into the high rises.
“Till last month, there were cases from slums and chawls, and the number of cases had actually gone down. But it looks like cases there have peaked and, now, like the initial trend during March and April, cases are back in high rises as people step out to get tested on their own. Most people infected in high rises are house help and other helpers etc. Through them, residents are also getting infected,” said Prashant Gaikwad, Assistant Municipal Commissioner, D Ward.
According to BMC, there have been cases where house help went home to other states, and on returning to their employer, tested positive after a few days.
"We have closely watched four different cases this month of helpers returning from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Ratnagiri and even Mankhurd. They were isolated for a few days by their employers in garages or elsewhere on the premises. However, all four tested positive after a week or two. This led to infection spreading among others in the building from helpers to even residents," said a BMC official.
Since June 7, the ward has recorded more than 500 cases, and a majority of these have emerged in high-rises, according to BMC officials. “We have a sealed building where cases have emerged in big numbers. The house help and drivers all sit together. The house helps live in garages or servants quarters in the building and use common toilets on the premises. If one of them gets infected, all of them get infected, and then the residents too contract the disease. We have instructed the housing societies to get common toilets on the premises cleaned and disinfected four times a day,” Gaikwad said.
On June 1, D ward had recorded a total of 1,230 COVID-19 cases, and as on June 25, the number of cases jumped to 2,205. A total of 1,389 patients from D ward have recovered and have been discharged so far.
“We have begun screening of residents once again. But most of those who are testing positive now are either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. We have adequate isolation centres and there is no shortage of beds. Majority of them have been sent to Covid Care Centre (CCC2) at Grant Medical Gymkhana,” Gaikwad added.