To curtail the number of cases resulting from an impending third Covid-19 wave, the BMC has decided to increase testing to up to 60,000 from next week. Until mid-April, the civic body was conducting 40,000 to 50,000 tests, which dropped below 30,000 during the lockdown.
Civic officials said though the dreaded Delta-plus variant is still not a ‘variant of concern’, it has been around in the state since April. Recently 128 samples were detected with the Delta variant after the civic body conducted genome sequencing on 194 samples which was collected from the Covid-19 hotspots in the city. The BMC said increasing testing and genome sequencing will help the state soldier against it.
According to the BMC dashboard, 10,25,610 individuals have been tested for Covid-19 in the last 30 days, which means on an average 34,187 tests were conducted every day. While an average of 50,000 tests was conducted per day in Mumbai in mid-April, which have now come down to a daily average of 30,000-40,000.
Additional Municipal Commissioner Suresh Kakani said though the number of coronavirus cases have surged in the last one week, increased testing would cover most of the population before the dreaded third wave hits. “As everything is opening up gradually, cases are rising. We want to diagnose at the earliest and provide treatment to those contracting the virus. Further lifting of curbs would mean more cases, which is why we have decided to increase testing up to 60,000 every day,” he said. Moreover, in the last 12 days, twice the civic body had conducted more than 50,000 Covid testing.
Meanwhile, the civic body had also appealed to citizens that they should get tested immediately, in case they turn symptomatic or come in contact with any Covid positive patient. The civic body wants to be cautious as the threat of the third wave of the pandemic looms large. The BMC has appealed to citizens that they should get themselves tested at 250 civic-run centres where free testing camps are being conducted.
In a statement issued last week, the BMC said, “Citizens should get tested for Covid-19 immediately if they come in contact with Covid infected patients or find any symptoms in themselves. Free Covid test facility on behalf of BMC is available at more than 250 centres in the city.”
All ward officers have been directed to test the close contacts of Covid-19 patients immediately to avoid further transmission. They have also been asked to keep a close eye on families who are reporting more than one patient, and their samples will be sent for genome sequencing.
Earlier, the BMC would test the close contact of the Covid-19 patients after 4-5 days if they developed any symptoms, and till then, they were advised to remain home quarantined. However, it was found that people under home quarantine were not adhering to Covid norms, and this policy has now been changed to curb the spread of cases.
Kakani said, “We have increased our testing and contact tracing measures. We have also changed the testing policy for high-risk contacts, and begun to test them on day one of tracing them after detection. As aspects of city life are opening up, we expect a higher number of cases in comparison to earlier. However, we are watching the positivity rate closely, and it has only marginally increased.”
Doctors from the Maharashtra Covid-19 Task Force said Mumbai can’t be considered in isolation. They said the cases are gradually coming down across the state, but not everywhere in the country. “To say that the second wave is over and cases have declined drastically, we should wait till September-end and then re-look at the numbers,” said a member of the task force.
Experts believe the city needs to keep up high testing despite the low positivity rate. Dr Rahul Pandit, another member of the task force, said he has always been in favour of intensified testing, even if the number of cases drops. He added, “We may record a lower positivity rate during this time, but until we have it below 1%, testing in large numbers is a better strategy.”
This, he said, can be done by contact tracing within the first 24 hours of increased cases. “We can target areas that have reported more cases. Eventually, we will see isolated cases and not in clusters. We can’t slack off if cases dip,” he said.
Dr Mala Kaneria, Consultant, Department of Infectious Diseases, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre said the third wave is expected to hit us anytime between September and October 2021 and in order to bolster its defences, the BMC has decided to ramp up the testing from its daily 30000-35000 tests to 40000 to 45000 tests. "Another reason why increased testing is prudent is because we are entering the festival season, where it would be difficult to avoid congregations. Hence, the BMC has also appealed to citizens to get tested at any of the civic centres if they develop symptoms or come in contact with any positive case," she said.
Dr Sushrut Ganpule, consulting pulmonologist from Pune’s Jupiter Hospital, said the Delta variant created a huge challenge for hospitals during the third wave. Now with cases of Delta-plus variant (with higher transmissibility) rising across the country, including Maharashtra, higher testing is needed. “We have to be very careful for the next couple of months. People need to continue following Covid-appropriate behaviour like using masks, maintaining social distancing, and avoiding gatherings,” he said.
After nine of the 24 municipal administrative wards in the city reported more than 100 Covid-19 cases in the last seven days, the BMC is conducting zone-wise meetings to analyse the cause of the rise in cases in their respective wards. Civic officials said there is a need for strict vigilance in each ward as citizens are still not adhering to Covid-19 norms, and this has contributed to the increase in cases.
According to the BMC’s dashboard, between August 23 to August 29, 140 cases were recorded in Andheri West, followed by 138 in H-West (Bandra), 134 in G-North (Dadar), 131 each in F-North (Matunga) and R-South (Kandivli), 126 in R-Central (Borivli), 109 in D ward (Grant Road), 103 in K East (Andheri East) and 104 in E ward (Byculla).
Suresh Kakani, Additional Municipal Commissioner, said they will be reviewing each ward in the next two days, and will be instructing all the ward officers to strictly follow three T's (Testing, Tracing and Treatment) to help curb cases in their wards.
“We do not want to leave any loopholes which will impact us during the third wave. I will be holding meetings with all zonal and ward officers on the issue of tackling Covid cases in their respective wards. We have also instructed each ward to increase Covid testing and tracing,” Kakani said.
Ward officers have also been directed to send the samples of Covid positive patients, and those collected during contact tracing, for genome sequencing.
A senior civic officer from the BMC’s public health department said, “As a general trend during the second wave, we have noticed Mumbai received more cases from suburban residential buildings, in contrast to the first wave last year, where more cases were seen in slums. The residential buildings of suburbs have seen a large number of cases.”
With cluster cases being reported in housing societies, the BMC has been forced to seal 27 buildings in the city currently. On Monday, BMC chief, Iqbal Singh Chahal, directed civic officials to strictly implement Covid-19 protocols and containment measures. Admitting there has been a marginal rise in cases, Chahal said movement of residents from housing societies that have more than five cases should be restricted. Similarly, outsiders will not get access to these buildings. Chahal also directed the police to deploy their personnel outside the sealed buildings.