Expert Speak India Matters
Published on May 02, 2020
Walled city dilemmas in the fight against COVID19: The case of Ahmedabad Despite several measures taken by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation as well as the state government, Ahmedabad’s battle against COVID-19 still rages on. It is by now clear that while the ticking bomb in Ahmedabad Walled City has not gone off, it hasn’t been diffused either. As of May 01, Ahmedabad has 3,278 confirmed cases and 163 deaths which account for 69.40% of the total confirmed cases in Gujarat. The figures reveal that in the last seven days, out of the total deaths in Gujarat, 80% of the deaths were recorded from Ahmedabad alone. Out of the total cases confirmed, 41.2% were from the Central Zone and 25.9% from South Zone whereas 32.9% of the cases came from North Zone, West Zone, East Zone, South West Zone and North West Zone put together. On 27 April, when the city had 2182 cases in total, 1455 cases were from Central and South Zones (66.7%) alone. The city has seen an increase in the number of tests per million conducted. On 23 April, the city conducted 3250 tests per million which increased to 3950 on 28 April. As of today, 4672 tests per million tests were conducted tallying the total to 25,996 tests. The worrisome fact is that, Ahmedabad’s mortality rate of (4.97) is much higher than India’s mortality rate of (3.28), particularly when compared to cities such as Mumbai and Delhi has a mortality rate of (4.06) and (1.63) respectively. Source: https://ahmedabadcity.gov.in/portal/index.jsp To contain the spread of the virus, AMC has adopted various steps and strategies – identifying cluster containment zones being one. As of 30, April, AMC had identified six clusters mainly from the Central and South Zone (Khadia, Dariapur, Shahpur, Jamalpur, Danilimda and Behrampur) which are all in the Walled City of Ahmedabad. Three more clusters Saraspur, Gomtipura and Asarwa were added. A pro-active approach, called EPIC (Enhanced Testing, Proactive Detection, Intensive Surveillance, and Corona check-posts) has been implemented by them. To monitor the movement of the individuals under home quarantine, GPS-enabled drones are used. To restrict the movement of people in the markets, an initiative “Vegetable on Wheels” has been introduced to ensure people get vegetables on their doorstep. The AMC has been active in distributing relief packages and getting in touch with donor institutions to distribute approximately 50,000 food packets per day and a free supply of essential items like vegetables and milk to the poor families. On the downside, many poor households especially in the walled city have claimed they have to reduce their daily food intake as well as the quantity of milk provided to their kids. A few members mentioned that they were surviving on the khichdi from community kitchens. While some mentioned that since there were no vegetable vendors, they were relying on the pulses and rice. Given the current predicament, if this goes on, their supply would only last for another 10-12 days. Seven mobile testing vans for each zone have been deployed with 30 on-field teams to carry out intensive surveillance. To reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19 in the rural areas of Ahmedabad district, a mobile van has been launched which will collect samples from villages and bring them for testing to BJ Medical College. This is to ensure the spread is contained in the rural areas before they travel to the city. Unlike the rest of the state, where shops and establishments were reopened effectively on 26 April, (as per the notification of the state government) – the four hotspots, namely Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot still lack this privilege, for understandable reasons. Source: https://ahmedabadcity.gov.in/portal/index.jsp To reduce the burden on the hospitals, the State Government on 29 April announced that patients aged between 15-55 who are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms can be allowed to self-isolate or shifted to COVID care centers. If they opt for home isolation, they are requested to strictly abide by the guidelines issued by the Central Government. This may not stand true for people who live in congested areas like the Walled City. After 17 doctors in Ahmedabad’s LG hospital were tested positive on 18 April and three doctors based in Ahmedabad’s SVP hospital were tested positive on 26 April, approximately 100 doctors and 750 paramedic staff was recruited to ensure that medical staff is available at the hospitals. The SVP hospital is the designated COVID-19 facility run by AMC. It is worth asking why the protection of the city’s healthcare workers does not figure as a primary priority when designing policy, given that doctors tested positive have already potentially came in contact with large amounts of people. Given the existing shortage of healthcare professionals, which in turn exacerbates the difficulty of recruiting new members to cover the shortfall, protection of the existing body of healthcare workers is paramount. A day after the ban on the use of loudspeakers at religious places was invoked on 27 April, a protest was held for minority rights on 28 April against the decision, demanding the revocation of the said ban during the holy month of Ramadan. The Minority Coordination Committee brought to the chief minister’s notice that prohibition on the use of loudspeaker for reciting ‘azan’ and announcements for initiating and end of fasting is a violation of the constitutional rights. Committee’s convener Mujahid Nafees wrote, “The state government is trying to snatch away the constitutional rights under the guise of the Disaster Management Act, which is not appropriate.” The Muslim community had been cooperative in the closure of the mosques since the beginning of the lockdown, however, using loud-speakers in mosques for a proper observation of the fast is a requirement. The situation posed another major roadblock in front of the authorities seeking to fight the disease in Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner Mr. Vijay Nehra pointed to yet another problem in a press-briefing; the late admission of people to hospitals. In turn, by the time such cases are detected, the situation is already at a critical stage, contributing to the high percentage death toll in the city. The walled city area is densely populated, cluttered and is inter-connected through bylanes, which also means that any cases detected have potentially also spread the virus further in the area. With the curfew in the area being lifted on 24 April, social distancing has not been duly implemented to the desired level, partly owing to the police patrolling only main road areas and not the cluttered and inter-connected bylanes where economic and social activity in the walled city thrive. Moving forward, the AMC has identified 3S as their new approach towards testing. The 3S are – Super Spreaders (milkman, vegetable vendors, garbage collectors, etc.), Slums and Senior Citizens. Furthermore, as announced, the nationwide lockdown will be lifted on 4 May, the AMC has decided to put a fine ranging from Rs 1,000 to Rs 5,000 for spitting in public, as part of the strategy to control the spread of Covid-19. Four-wheelers should not carry more than two people and two-wheelers should carry single riders only. The Urban Community Development has made 3.5 lakh cotton masks which will be distributed to vendors for free of cost. A fine will also be imposed if the vendor is caught not wearing a mask and his licence would be suspended. It is true that there is a direct correlation with the number of tests and the number of positive cases as the city has observed a rise in the number of cases as more tests were conducted. However, even as Ahmedabad progresses in its fight with COVID-19 amidst some bottlenecks, it is necessary to cast an eye towards planning for the next stage. With the nationwide lockdown slated to end on 17 May, but with a few relaxations, it is worth wondering if Ahmedabad itself should follow the rest of the country in easing restrictions. Serious questions remain of its capacity to test and monitor the spread of the disease in the case of the restrictions being lifted. This is particularly of concern within the walled city, where a mixture of insufficient testing and imperfect implementation have served to make it a ticking time bomb. It is important that such scenarios be prevented altogether, or monitored strictly, and avoid the rise of other hotspots in the city as a result of eased restrictions. Equally, due planning is required since the lockdown is extended beyond 4 May. Clearly, the attempts of the city authorities in assuring the provision of essentials has been insufficient, or at least showing grave inequalities by zone. The same must be eradicated by 4 May, not only as a confidence-building measure towards the vulnerable population in the Walled City, but also to ensure that local policy (acting as the local agent of national policy), and the citizens move in perfect synergy against this pandemic. While this pandemic brings fear and devastation, it also allows those enterprising among us to leave a mark on policymakers to come. It is high time Ahmedabad use its situation to convert its initial promise into tangible results.
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Contributor

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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