In Maharashtra, the state worst affected by Covid-19, 1,273 police personnel from the two-lakh-strong force have tested positive so far; 11 of them have died while 291 have recovered. Police have been deployed in a number of duties relating to the outbreak and lockdown, including in high-risk areas.
Of the 1,273 cases, 131 are officers and 1,142 constables. Most are personnel in Mumbai and surrounding areas, or Malegaon city, or Maharashtra State Reserved Police Force (SRPF) personnel who were deployed in high-risk areas. As of Monday morning, the number of cases was 618 in Mumbai police, 46 in Thane police, 85 in Nashik Rural Police that includes Malegaon, and 33 in Pune city police.
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The SRPF has had 387 cases. Most of these have been from among companies deployed in Mumbai and Malegaon, which went back to their unit headquarters in Hingoli, Aurangabad and Jalna after completion of 45 days of deployment.
At the forefront
Police have been deployed in contact tracing, monitoring of home or institutional quarantine, lockdown implementation, and closure of containment zones and district boundaries. Lately, all police units have been given the added responsibility of facilitating the homeward journey of stranded people.
The first cases among police were reported in the second week of April. The number rose from 19 on April 14 to 64 on April 22, 342 on May 2, and 618 on May 8; it crossed 1,000 on May 14.
“The way the virus has spread among the police force is not different from how it does among the common public. However, the extent of exposure is way too high, police being primary responders to almost everything and having been given a very broad spectrum of responsibilities,” a senior police officer said.
“One way is a policeman catching the infection during deployment, the probability of which is very high if the duty is in a high-risk area,” a senior police officer said, while agreeing that infection is also possible while off duty. “A second way is police personnel getting infected from a colleague, especially when he or she is asymptomatic… We have reason to believe that spread among the police is more due to the second [route],” the officer said.
“We cannot deny that insufficiency of supply of safety utilities in the initial days or even lapses in taking care are also responsible. Many initial infections can be attributed to this. We have come a long way from that. But there are many other factors too: It is impractical to wear a PPE suit for over 8 to 10 hours of duty, that too in summer. Duties at hospitals, quarantine and isolation facilities are inherently risky.”
The police response has evolved with case growth. Separate quarantine or isolation facilities, dedicated hospitals have been earmarked for police at various places. Along with a Covid helpline, healthcare aid is being given through the Maharashtra Police Family Insurance scheme. At some high-risk areas, hotels and lodges have been earmarked for police. Pune police have issued a pictorial SOP to minimise the risk for the family of personnel once they go home.
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Around 23,000 police personnel aged between 50 and 55 are being given low-risk police station tasks while 12,000 more above 55 have been asked to stay home.
In SRPF, a decision has been taken to transport and accommodate smaller groups. Pune Police Commissioner K Venkatesham said, “We will have to unlearn a lot of our old practices. We will have to learn procedures and set standards in place to keep infections at bay.”