Maharashtra: Ajoy Mehta on how the state is handling the COVID-19 situation

ST Staff
Tuesday, 30 June 2020

We have relaxed the lockdown in phases. As we step out and do business, the number of cases will increase. We have presumed it and hence relaxations were given in phases. These decisions are taken after considering how many cases would increase if we give certain permissions or relaxations in lockdown.

Coronavirus outbreak is pan-India, but the number of cases in Maharashtra is also among the highest. Migrant labourers are also moving out of Mumbai. Thus, everyone is worried about what would happen to Mumbai city. 

Corona-warriors like doctors, medical staff, police all are fighting the battle and Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta is leading this force. 

His day starts from 7 am and ends at whatever time in the night.

Ajoy Mehta talks to Sakal Times about how Maharashtra is handling the virus situation

After the first patient was found in March, a lot of relaxations have been given in the lockdown in June and some businesses have reopened. What are the challenges in front of us?

A: We have relaxed the lockdown in phases. As we step out and do business, the number of cases will increase. We have presumed it and hence relaxations were given in phases. These decisions are taken after considering how many cases would increase if we give certain permissions or relaxations in lockdown.

The state governments capacity to treat the increased number of patients is also checked. The government will permit only those number of activities that it can handle the patient load in hospitals. 

Apart from this, Jalgaon, Aurangabad and Solapur districts are a cause of concern for us. The cases in these districts have increased and we have taken measures to reduce them.

The patient count has stabilised now. The situation in areas like Dharavi, Worli was worrisome. What measures did the government take to tackle the situation?

A: We did not stop at conducting tests. Some other states did that mistake. So even if they tested more, the number of cases there has not reduced. We have adopted the test-trace-transfer approach. If a patient is tested positive for COVID-19 we don't relax after admitting him to a hospital. We check for persons with whom he was in close contact, what is their health condition. If anyone of those traced contacts is showing symptoms, he or she was shifted in a quarantine centre. 

The public toilets in a slum-like Dharavi were cleaned and sanitised thrice a day. We increased the number of public water taps to prevent crowding at one place. These measures helped us control the virus spread in areas like Dharavi. This model is implemented in the entire state. Our 34 thousand employees have formed a group of two each and are consolidating health information from citizens. We have contacted more than 1 crore people so far. The number of cases has settled from 1400 to 1700 per day after the relaxations have been implemented.

The Maharashtra model was discussed nationwide. What is this model exactly?

A: Initially, the number of cases was rising rapidly in Mumbai. Everybody was concerned about how the healthcare system can be provided to such a large population. Then we analyzed corona infected patients. Asymptomatic persons or with mild symptoms were shifted to COVID Care Centers (CCC), persons with bit serious condition and needing oxygen supply were shifted to Dedicated COVID Health Center (DCHC) and persons with serious conditions were admitted to dedicated COVID Hospitals. Serious patients were directly admitted to Intensive Care Units. We have constructed this trilateral healthcare system at Worli, BKC and Goregaon which helped reduce burdens on the hospitals. This model was discussed nationwide and some states also took information about it from us.

The opposition has taken objections to the difference in the number of patient or cases reported.

The government has ordered that the COVID-positive patient and cases count must be declared transparently. People should know the real situation and then only they will follow the rules seriously. Initially, citizens were not sharing factual information with us so it was becoming difficult to trace a patient. But now we check mobile numbers of patients too. Persons symptomatic of Covid-19 but who died in an accident, suicide etc were also counted initially, but now those are not. If a patient dies within 24 hours we hold the surveyor's group responsible, and if patients die in a week we check if there were any lapses on the part of the hospital. In Mumbai, we are inquiring about patients in each ward. We are tracing every patient and persons in his close contact. I don't know where the opposition gets the information they have.

Are private hospitals, doctors cooperating? Have you taken any action regarding it?

A: Private hospitals are not cooperating as much they should. But the government has reserved 80 per cent beds in these hospitals for COVID patients. But citizens are not being made aware of it. Government has its eye on each hospital, the patient count in it and how much they are charging. Government has appointed auditors there, and if hospitals refuse to cooperate then we will appoint an income tax officer too to check every bill. 

We have asked small clinics to reopen and are providing PPE kits to these doctors and staff. Now monsoon has arrived and other diseases will rear their head up. So we are hopeful of cooperation from private hospitals otherwise they will have to face action.

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