Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal has been at the centre of initiating a series of measures in Mumbai to flatten the city’s Covid-19 curve.
In an interview to The Indian Express, Chahal recalled the night of April 16-17 “that changed us forever”, and also laid out his ambitious plans for “vaccination tsunami”.
The BMC chief said that with “great help from the Government of India”, he has been able to bring in tankers from Reliance Industries in Jamnagar in April, following which the issue of oxygen shortage in Mumbai has become “history” now.
Explaining how Mumbai has become self-sufficient in oxygen, Chahal said they have established “six emergency stock points, which function 24/7 and store about 50 MT of oxygen each”.
Asked about Delhi’s oxygen crisis, Chahal listed out certain factors such as availability of stock, dedicated supply, pressure on hospitals to add beds, and leakage of oxygen, among others, behind the shortage.
Asked if Mumbai is prepared to deal with third or fourth waves, Chahal said, “Absolutely. I have no doubt in my mind that a third wave is going to hit us sometime in June and July, maybe later.”
He said they are already preparing for it and has, therefore, started to build “four brand new jumbos in Mumbai 15 days ago”.
“It will take our dashboard from 22,000 beds to more than 30,000 in a month’s time. Our ICU beds have been ramped up from 1,500 to almost 3,000. We are trying to bring that up to 4,000 by June,” he added.
‘Will get a big tsunami of vaccinations done’
Chahal said they have drawn up a very ambitious plan for vaccination. He added that “we will get a big tsunami of vaccinations done”, but the only issue is availability.
The BMC chief said Mumbai has nearly 90 lakh people in the 18-plus category, which means it needs 1.8 crore doses.
“Of this, we have already covered 25 lakh… So if we do 2 lakh per day, 60 lakh in a month… In 75 days, I can cover 1.5 crore doses… I have requested the CM to get us 60 lakh vaccines per month… I think by May 20, the picture on availability of vaccines will become quite clear,” he added.
On a question of why the testing numbers are falling in Mumbai Chahal said priority must be accorded to a symptomatic person who needs treatment, “rather than having mass testing on a cosmetic basis”.
He said from April 1 to 30, the city conducted nearly 12.9 lakh tests and 67% of them were RT-PCR. “But when our positivity rate fell from 31% per cent in the first week of April to single digits…the demand has reduced,” Chahal added.
On a question about Centre’s oxygen allocation, Chahal refused to blame the central government. He said the state governments must take the blame as “many states of India were not even ready to admit how many cases they have”.
He said if states aren’t doing adequate testing, the Centre cannot allocate oxygen to them properly.
“When states have only 1,000 or 2,000 cases, their allocation will be very poor. If allocation is poor, people are going to suffer…” he said.
‘A decentralised lockdown’
Asked if lockdown is effective in breaking the chain of Covid-19 transmission, Chahal replied in the affirmative.
But he also said if Mumbai achieves a 6-7% positivity rate, then why should it suffer a national lockdown. Chahal added the decision to impose lockdown should be left to the states.
“A decentralised lockdown, varying from state to state, would be a better option,” he added.
On a question of how the civic body is planning to tackle the pandemic during monsoon, the BMC chief said they
have identified 385 flooding spots and assigned engineers for each one of them.
The engineers were given a month’s time to come up with solutions. Chahal said they chalked out a Rs 600-crore plan to mitigate flooding of these areas. “On February 20, work orders were issued and work started happening in these areas. We expect to complete the work by May 31,” he added.
On Mumbai’s fatality rate, Chahal said they are very closely monitoring it, but the deaths are not above 7-8% of the state.