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Friday, April 16, 2021

Mumbai: Senior citizens wait for hours as officials try to work around software glitches

Some got tired of waiting and left without getting the shot, while others stood for their turn. Amidst a surge in Covid-19 cases, crowded centres were unable to maintain physical distancing.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai |
March 1, 2021 9:37:57 pm
A common thread in the complaints was difficulty in online registration, sluggish processing on the Co-WIN portal and absolute shutdown of software in some centres until noon. (Representational/Express Photo by Arul Horizon)

The dependence on Co-WIN — the registration software for getting the Covid-19 vaccine — led to chaos at vaccination centres on Monday as several elderly people, many of them wheelchair-bound, had to wait for hours to get the jab.

Some got tired of waiting and left without getting the shot, while others stood for their turn. Amidst a surge in Covid-19 cases, crowded centres were unable to maintain physical distancing.

The upgraded Co-WIN 2.0 was launched on Monday after a three-hour delay in Mumbai’s 43 vaccination centres. Of the 43, eight centres were designated for immunising senior citizens and comorbid candidates.

The Seven Hills Hospital stopped entry of people briefly when its server stopped working. In NESCO centre, chairs fell short in the waiting area. In HJ Doshi Hospital’s centre, till 3.30 pm, the Co-WIN app did not activate. A staff of 50 was ready since morning, and at least 102 senior citizens had to wait six hours. Eventually, the centre took special permission from the government to vaccinate without Co-WIN software.

Kidney patient Jagdish Agrawal (72) and Usha Devi (66), who has hypertension, waited from 9.30 am until 12.30 pm for their dose at the NESCO centre, Goregaon. “We did not step out the entire year. We wanted to get the vaccine the day it was available. We didn’t want to wait another day,” Usha said.

The couple had planned a trip to USA to get vaccinated until they heard about the rollout in India. The vaccine shot would mean freedom for six members of the family.

“Nobody goes out of the house. I step out once a week to buy groceries. We wanted to get my parents vaccinated,” their son said.

While state officials expected a lukewarm response from senior citizens and people with comorbidities, staff at centres in Mumbai were surprised to see recipients from 7 am. Like the Agrawals, several were eager to receive vaccination as Mumbai edges towards a possible second wave.

A common thread in the complaints was difficulty in online registration, sluggish processing on the Co-WIN portal and absolute shutdown of software in some centres until noon. By then the centres had started to get crowded.

On her wheelchair, Seeta Devi (70) waited two hours as her daughter tried to navigate through health officials at NESCO centre. “We managed to register online after waiting for the OTP for an hour. When we reached the centre, first the software did not work and later our names were not visible on the portal,” she said. Her husband Mahendra Dev’s name was also not reflecting on the portal. Sachin Mukate, who had registered online, found his name too did not appear in the verified list.

NESCO in-charge Dr Neelam Andrade said several who registered online faced this issue. “We are asking them to wait, hoping their names will appear once the software refreshes,” she said.

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Andrade said they could not vaccinate until the Co-WIN portal activated and names of people were verified online. “Similar issues had cropped up on January 16 when the immunisation drive was rolled out,” said Andrade.

In Seven Hills Hospital, Sandhya Rane (60) said she was first not allowed entry because the software was not working. “We stood under the sun. Later, when they allowed entry, we had to stand in a long queue. I have been waiting three hours,” she said, a token in her hand.

Several centres lacked electronic display system to show which token number was next. As officials shouted token numbers, senior citizens were forced to crowd at the counter.

Dr Balkrishna Adsul, dean in Seven Hills Hospital, said they expected issues on the first day. “Because the crowd was difficult to handle, we decided to stop entry of more people. We only allowed those who pre-registered on Co-WIN portal,” he said.

Walk-in facility was stopped in several centres due to crowding. In HJ Doshi Hospital, medical director Dr Vaibhav Deogirkar said they have a digital display for token, staff of 50 trained, and they bought some laptops for the vaccination process. “But a lot of our resources will be wasted if the software glitch continues,” he said.

The hospital suffered software problems for six hours. Finally, N-Ward medical officer Dr Mahendra Khandare took special permission from central government to start offline vaccination.

“In different centres, the software is running differently. There were no complaints from Rajawadi hospital or Cooper hospital. Somehow few centres are unable to run the portal. We have communicated these issues to the headquarters,” Khandare said.

Vijay Jadhav waited for hour before deciding to leave NESCO centre. “My mother cannot sit so long. We will wait a few days and try again,” he said.

Deogirkar said such issues may discourage people from stepping up for vaccination. “Already 600 people have registered for vaccination at our centre tomorrow. If these issues continue, vaccinating all of them may prove difficult,” he said.

In SRCC Children’s Hospital, over 200 people visited but by 5 pm only 35 could be vaccinated. “We will try to immunise as many as possible. The rest may be asked to come later,” said Rupesh Choubey, facility director.

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