Situation ‘especially serious’ in Ahmedabad, Surat, Hyderabad, Chennai, Thane

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New Delhi: The COVID-19 situation is “especially serious” in major or emerging hotspots like Ahmedabad, Surat, Hyderabad, Chennai and Thane, the Centre said on Friday, as it rushed inter-ministerial central teams (IMCT) to monitor the situation in these cities.

The assessment by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) came on a day when Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner Vijay Nehra said the number of COVID-19 patients in the Gujarat capital may grow to eight lakh by the end of May if the current four-day period of doubling of the cases continues. So far, Ahmedabad city has reported 1,638 cases, the highest in Gujarat which accounted for over 2,600 infections.

In a statement, the MHA said violations of lockdown measures reported in some parts of the country posed a serious health hazard to public and may lead to the spread of COVID-19.

“The situation is especially serious in major hotspot districts or emerging hotspots like Ahmedabad and Surat (Gujarat), Thane (Maharashtra), Hyderabad (Telangana), and Chennai (Tamil Nadu),” the statement said.

Coronavirus cases were inching towards 7,000 in Maharashtra which was on the top of the tally followed by Gujarat. Tamil Nadu (1,755) was in the sixth position while Telangana accounted for 970 cases.

The central team visiting Kolkata to assess the COVID-19 situation, meanwhile, wrote to the West Bengal government seeking a detailed report on the functioning of the coronavirus deaths audit committee and a meeting with its members as it expressed displeasure over the arrangements in hospitals and quarantine centres.

In a letter to Chief Secretary Rajiv Sinha, the IMCT led by senior bureaucrat Apurba Chandra sought to know the system of approving the declaration of death of COVID-19 patients by the committee of doctors, which was set up by the state government. The state government is facing allegations of underplaying coronavirus cases and deaths.

Four teams headed by Additional Secretary-level officers will visit Ahmedabad, Surat, Hyderabad and Chennai, MHA Joint Secretary Punya Salila Srivastava told a press conference.  These teams will be in addition to the six IMCTs constituted earlier, she said.

The teams have been constituted for a spot assessment of the COVID-19 hotspot districts.

The six teams are in Mumbai, Pune (Maharashtra), Indore (Madhya Pradesh), Jaipur (Rajasthan) and West Bengal (one team for Kolkata and adjoining districts and the other for North Bengal). The team in Mumbai will also visit Thane.

The Home Ministry said that in some of the districts, a number of violations of the lockdown measures have been reported, posing a serious health hazard and risk for the spread of COVID-19, which is against the general interest of public.

“These violations include incidents ranging from violence on frontline healthcare professionals, attacks on police personnel, violations of social distancing norms in market places and opposition to setting up of quarantine centres and so on,” it said.

The ministry said if such incidents are allowed to occur without any restraining measures in hotspot districts and emerging hotspots or even places where large outbreaks or clusters may be expected, it would pose a serious health hazard for the people of the country.

The IMCTs would use expertise of the central government and augment the states’ efforts to fight and contain the spread of COVID-19 effectively.

These teams would make an on the spot assessment of the situation and issue necessary directions to state authorities for its redressal and submit their report to the central government in the larger interest of general public, the ministry said.

They would be focusing on a range of issues including compliance and implementation of lockdown measures as per guidelines issued under the Disaster Management Act 2005, supply of essential commodities, social distancing in movement of people outside their homes, preparedness of health infrastructure, hospital facilities and sample statistics in the district.

Safety of health professionals, availability of test kits, PPEs, masks and other safety equipment; and conditions of the relief camps for labour and poor people will also be looked after by the IMCTs, the statement said.

The teams comprise public health specialists and officers of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), whose expertise can be leveraged by the state government for management of COVID-19 pandemic. 

The six teams which were earlier sent have shared their observations and findings with the state governments, Secretary Srivastava said.

Srivastava said IMCT, Mumbai has suggested to install portable toilets in Dharavi slum, Mumbai to augment the number of community toilets as people are dependent on such toilets and have to come out in spite of the lockdown ban.

The team visited slums of Dharavi, Vadala and Govandi in Mumbai. 

It found that in Dharavi people are dependent on home quarantine and suggested to arrange for institutional quarantine for 2,000-3,000 people besides increasing the testing capacity for COVID-19 and to increase the strength of surveillance teams, the official said.