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Coronavirus: ‘Shutdown implemented a bit late…will rope in private players to shoulder responsibility’

Amid spread of COVID-19 cases, Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope tells The Indian Express about state government’s preparedness in fight against the virus and the measures he himself follows to keep safe

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai |
March 25, 2020 1:10:21 am
coronavirus mumbai cases, mumbai lockdown coronavirus, mumbai news, coronavirus news, latest news, indian express State Health Minister Rajesh Tope visits Kasturba hospital in Mumbai (File/Express Photo: Ganesh Shirsekar)

What is the strategy right now?

Identification, isolation, testing and treatment are the four pillars on which we are working. We are training ASHA workers to identify symptoms so that if it (infection) spreads in rural areas, they can isolate patients immediately and do contact tracing. We are also increasing number of laboratories and number of beds for future rise in cases. The shutdown began a little late but we are taking all measures. In our preparedness plan, private players will also be shouldering responsibility. I have urged big private companies to help as part of their corporate social responsibility.

How are private players participating and how do we ensure there is no profiteering by private hospitals?

We can get about 1,000 private hospitals empanelled under Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Jan Arogya Yojana to treat COVID-19 patients for free. If patients become severe, and need ICU and specialised care, we will use these hospitals for treatment. This will be an added advantage. We are also allowing private charitable hospitals to treat and private laboratories to diagnose new cases. For other private hospitals, we will decide to pay for patients if needed. Such a decision can be taken in the cabinet.

You mentioned the shutdown was implemented late, why?

I don’t mean shutdown was late. I mean the source of the virus is from foreign countries. People who came from abroad brought it and their close family members were infected. If the ban on international flights had been placed much earlier, people would have been inconvenienced I agree, they would have been stuck abroad for few days too, but these COVID-19 cases would not have come to India.

Any funds set aside for coronavirus?

We have so far not allocated any funds for this. But under preparedness plan, we have given power to district collectors to use 5 per cent of Development District Planning and Development Council (DPDC) fund for whatever they need to procure. We have given Rs 15 crore to each divisional commissioner.

We have few cases where a COVID-19 patient has no international travel history… Do you think community transmission is happening?

Not at all. Community transmission cannot be declared by a single person who tests positive. If Mumbai has community transmission, there will be a chain of cases, we will have two to three lakh infected cases. These few cases who have tested positive but have no travel history must have come in close contact of a COVID-19 case and they don’t know it. It is not possible these sporadic cases are of community transmission.

Maharashtra is still not testing enough, we are testing about 200-300 people each day.

Earlier we had only one National Institute of Virology in Pune to test. Now we have five laboratories in Mumbai, four in Pune, and one in Nagpur. Our capacity is growing every day. Tomorrow JJ hospital will begin testing samples. We will now plan to start testing facility in all medical colleges. By March 27, you will find adequate testing facilities.

Daily wagers have been badly hit by the lockdown, how can state government support them?

They must be provided ration at home. Those below poverty line need our support. We can provide few kgs of wheat and rice to them. I have suggested this to the chief minister. Soon a decision on this will be taken.

Do we have a prediction model on how cases will rise in future?

We believe addition of cases will go on for some days, but not multiplication. We are closely tracking contacts of confirmed cases. We expect cases to slowly fall after some days. Already 12 in Mumbai, one in Aurangabad and two in Pune have tested negative after treatment.

What measures are you taking against coronavirus?

I have started practicing social distancing from today. I maintain a metre’s distance from everyone. From today my press briefings will be live on Facebook, I have limited meeting media persons.

Your mother has not been keeping well, how difficult is this situation for you?

She has heart problems, kidney disease. She needs dialysis and has already undergone four surgeries for heart. Now due to her old age doctors are not allowing any more procedures on her. So she has to be on medical treatment. It is a delicate situation. Her liquid intake is not more than 700 ml. I was one year old, since then she has been on no-salt food. She is a strong lady, she fights through all this with a smile on her face. When I meet her in hospital I wear all required protective gear.

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