Nashik District Collector Suraj Mandhare
Nashik District Collector Suraj Mandhare

Malegaon, a textile hub of Maharashtra, is on its way to weaving a new tag for itself - that of a 'corona-free' city. It has emerged a role model after Mumbai, in the containment of virus spread. In an exclusive interview with The Free Press Journal, Nashik District Collector Suraj Mandhare explains how this was achieved.

Q: What is the present Covid-19 scenario in Malegaon?

A: The doubling rate of cases has slowed down to a record 100 days, from four days. The fatality rate was initially 10% but there have been no deaths in a week. The recovery rate is 81%. The number of new cases are in single digits so that the high fatality rate is frozen at that point itself.

The situation in Malegaon, which was once a major challenge, is now emerging as a success story due to a slew of initiatives. Corona management is a complex process but today, the situation seems to be under control, due in large part, to the great contribution of so many agencies and individuals.

Q: How was the containment plan implemented?

A: The overall corona preparedness of Nashik district was in place. However, the number of patients in Malegaon increased rapidly from 100 to 200 to 300 to 500 in a few days, from April onwards. This became a matter of concern for the district administration. Priority was given to restructuring work, to cope with the spurt in cases. An independent emergency operations centre was set up. All departments were brought under one umbrella.

Considering the population and the way of life, implementing the lockdown was a very challenging task. The containment zones were designed appropriately, considering patients' residence. Special care was taken not to make these containment zones too large or too small. The supply of essential commodities was made smooth.

A very efficient arrangement of information exchange was done digitally, to monitor that live action was taking place as planned. Special attention was paid to the disposal of day-to-day work by officers.

Q: Initially, the administration faced a lot of resistance from locals. How did you get them on board?

A: The population and way of life in Malegaon is unique. Initially, there was a lot of misunderstanding about corona. So citizens were not co-operating in surveys, which created problems in the compilation of information on those sick and its unfortunate consequences were borne by some citizens. The cooperation of those who could influence the minds of the locals was sought. For this, videos of prominent locals, especially religious leaders and medical professionals were recorded and disseminated through various media. Gradually, citizens were drawn in and began participating in all these measures.

Swabs were taken during Sehri or Iftari, as there were doubts about what would happen if swab samples were obtained during the Ramzan fast. An additional X-ray facility was also set up, to diagnose the disease.

Q: What further measures were implemented to give shape to what is now known as the 'Malegaon Pattern'?

A: The new discharge policy allowed patients to leave without swab tests, which reduced the loan on the swab testing and emptied the health facility. Although the public health system was very much in place, there was also a parallel system, including O2 concentraters, catering to patients who wanted to get treated at home. It was a calculated risk but worked well.

People in Malegaon mostly read local Urdu papers which rarely publish complex things like case fatality rate, doubling rate, antigen kits, debates on masks and no masks and vaccine development. This kept fear psychosis at bay and also saved them from being swamped with wrong conclusions.

The moment we re-started powerlooms, citizens immediately jumped in and resumed leading normal lives.

On top of it all, political and administrative bosses did not just review but genuinely provided assistance whenever required. The administration did not merely regulate but worked as volunteers. NGOs did not file PILs but actually worked towards public interest. Finally, people did not just make demands but actually contributed their bit. Everything was unprecedented and hence the result too. If corona is a mind game, then Malegaon played it quite well.

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Free Press Journal