June 24, 2020

How Asia’s biggest slum contained the coronavirus

By admin

In one of the world’s most congested shanty towns, social distancing is not a luxury people can afford. And density is a friend of the coronavirus.

Imagine more than 500,000 people spread over 2.5 grubby sq km, less than a square mile. That’s a population larger than Manchester living in an area smaller than Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

Eight to 10 people live together in poky 100 sq ft dwellings. About 80% of the residents use community toilets. Homes and factories coexist in single buildings lining the slum’s narrow lanes. Most people are informal daily-wage workers who don’t cook at home and go out to get their food.

And yet Dharavi, a sprawling slum in the heart of Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital, appears to have brought an outbreak under control – for now.

Since the first case was reported on 1 April, more than 2,000 infections and 80-odd deaths have been reported here. Half of the cases have recovered.

Daily reported infections dropped from a high of 43 a day in May to 19 in third week of June. The average doubling rate had gone up from 18 days in April to 78 in June.

The scale of the measures put in place – a mix of draconian containment, extensive screening and providing free food to an out-of-work population – has been extraordinary.

Municipal officials say they have traced, tracked, tested and isolated aggressively to halt the spread of infection. At the heart of this has been the screening effort, involving fever camps, doorstep initiatives and mobile vans. The early door-to-door screening by workers in sweltering personal protective gear was not sustainable when the weather turned hot and muggy.