Expert Speak Health Express
Published on Apr 19, 2020
Sociology of a pandemic - Hidden trends of COVID19 in Ahmedabad

The sudden rise in the number of confirmed positive cases in Ahmedabad has placed  it among the 170 Covid-19 hotspots in the country as identified by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW). The city which reported 31 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases on 1 April, today sees a twenty eight-fold increase with 862 confirmed positive cases in a of 18 days with the total cases in Gujarat at 1376. This figure accounts 62% of all confirmed cases in Gujarat. This surge has been despite the city being under the nation-wide lockdown since 25 March. In the past five days, Ahmedabad has recorded 81% of the total cases in Gujarat.

As the city saw an increase in the number of cases mainly traced back to international or inter-state travel, on 3 April the cluster containment strategy was implemented wherein the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation(AMC) decided to map out five clusters in Ahmedabad {2 localities in Jamalpur (77 houses), Dariyapur (250 houses), Rakhiyal (16 houses), Danilimda (150 houses)}, covering a total population of 2252. As a part of AMC’s cluster containment strategy, localities/apartments were sealed for the residents to enter or leave along with surveillance of the area, testing the suspects and isolation. This was implemented to contain the virus before the widespread occurs through clusters.

Despite the same, the cases continued to mount, revealing critical trends and strands within the city’s makeup and identity. On 6 April, 11 new confirmed cases were reported taking the total figure to 62. The cases were detected by the AMC teams during surveillance or contract tracing. 10 out of these 11 cases emerged out of one specific community in Kalupur and Dariyapur within the walled city of Ahmedabad having direct or indirect links to the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz in Nizamuddin, New Delhi.

The walled city also known as Old Ahmedabad spread over roughly 8.7 sq kms and constitutes of areas like Dariyapur, Lal Darwaja, Astodia, Raipur, Danilimda, Kalupur, Shahpur, Jamalpur. These areas have a population comprising of a Muslim majority. Dariyapur alone is spread over 0.79 sq. mtrs with a population of 63,644 in 13,170 households according to the AMC Property Tax Survey, 2015. On 8 April, with the increase in the total number of cases in the walled city areas like Dariapur and Kalupur, AMC commissioner Vijay Nehra announced the closure of the Nehru Bridge, a link that connects the old city with the new for general public until further notice. This was done with the aim to intensify checks in the walled city and to contain the spread. Sale in Ahmedabad’s biggest vegetable wholesale market situated in Kalupur was also suspended until further notice.

As a part of their surveillance strategy in the walled city, on 10 April, a total of 63,293 households with a population of 306674 were covered. Out of which, 247 people were symptomatic but samples of 557 were collected. On13 April, when the city crossed the mark of 280 confirmed cases, the data suggested that only 27 and 15 cases were through Domestic and International travel respectively, whereas 240 cases were through local transmission. Ahmedabad had entered the phase wherein transmission of the virus has started through clusters.

The walled city which was earlier under a cluster containment plan wherein 889 households were under containment still saw an increase in the number of cases after the residents who attended the congregation in New Delhi tested positive and had locally transmitted a few. Due to this, a seven-day curfew starting from 15 April until 21 April has been imposed in the walled city and Danilimda areas of Ahmedabad putting a population of approximately 29 lakh people under curfew. The areas under curfew are - Khamasa, Dariyapur, Sarangpur, Manek Chowk, Delhi Chakla, Jamalpur, Khadia and Raikhad. A police force of 2158 personnel along with parliamentary forces (a team from the Border Security Force, the Central Industrial Security Force, and an all-women team) have been deployed in the curfew area to monitor the movement. A three-hour relaxation period from 1PM to 4PM has been given to the women of the area to step outside to procure necessities. During the relaxation period, social distancing has to be strictly followed. The AMC has also deployed drones to disinfect the walled city.

As of 15 April, 91 confirmed cases were from Dariyapur and Jamalpur alone of the 204 cases from within the walled city. Surprisingly, the total number of cases in Ahmedabad stood at 373 which suggests that 60% of the city’s cases were reported within the walled city. This is because social distancing in the thickly populated area is challenging. On 15 April, 1247 samples were collected and 747 AMC teams carried out health check-ups in in 1.07 lakh houses and screened 4.59 lakh people. To identify the cases at an early stage, the Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner, Vijay Nehra has adopted the South Korean strategy of active testing in cluster areas. The surge in the number of cases is driven by intensive testing. Compared to India’s average of 177 tests per 10 lakh people, Gujarat is now conducting 267 tests per 10 lakhs. This surge in numbers in Ahmedabad can be linked to the spread of the virus in the identified hotspots.

On 16 April, Thursday, 93 new cases were reported taking the total number of confirmed positive cases in Ahmedabad to 526. Out of which, 38 were reported from the hotspots (Danilimda, 22 and Jamalpur, 16) alone. It is said that in areas like Danilimda, one positive case is a potential carrier for more than five people. As of 17  April, 20903 samples were tested in Gujarat; 7951 were tested in Ahmedabad alone.

How viable is the curfew as a mode to contain the spread?

The three-hour relaxation of curfew in the hot-sport areas has become a major cause of concern for the authorities putting the decision of imposing a curfew into question. This is because the social distancing norms are being violated on a rather large scale. Looking at the density of the population and the limited availability of the essential items, a large number of women have been seen crowding vegetable markets and grocery stores during this three-hour period. Was lockdown a more viable option than a curfew? If the idea was to forcefully implement social distancing norms, the opposite has been witnessed.

It is quite interesting to see that Dariyapur – the overcrowded area in the walled city which is also the hotspot for COVID-19 was also reported to be in grip of the highly contagious Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918. Looks like lessons haven’t been learnt from history, it is time that policymakers and urban planners learn their lessons and ensure that such outbreaks are accelerated by poor planning.On Tuesday 14 April, Congress MLA Imran Khedawala was tested positive a few hours after meeting with the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Shri Vijay Rupani. He is a legislator representing Jamalpur Khadia, one of the hotspots in Ahmedabad that has been brought under curfew to contain the spread of the virus. Surprisingly, he was feeling feverish and had submitted his blood sample on Monday, 13 April. A few family members, neighbours as well as Badruddin Sheikh and his wife have been tested positive. On the other hand, imposing a curfew on Muslim-majority areas in a city that has long been a hotbed of communal divide has given rise to stray incidents. In Juhapura — one of India's largest Muslim areas in Ahmedabad – people pelted stones on police when the lockdown was enforced.

As per the COVID-19 case report published by the AMC, out of 239 confirmed cases reported on 18 April, more than 50% of the cases have been detected in the walled city. Behrampura, a locality between Danilimda and Jamalpur alone reported 65 cases. The important question that yet remains unanswered is – Despite the curfew being imposed, the walled city still sees an increase in the number of cases. Given the predicament, will the seven-day curfew in the walled city be lifted on 21 April as announced earlier? The walled city of Ahmedabad is a ticking bomb which will explode if the curfew is lifted.

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Anushka Shah

Anushka Shah

Anushka Shah was Sub-Editor at ORF. Anushkas research interests include: climate finance urban environmental policy use of technology for socioeconomic development.

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