For almost ten days after the nationwide lockdown was announced, Anand district remained untouched by the outbreak of COVID-19. However, a 53-year-old woman from Khambat town tested positive on April 11, which set off a trail of positive cases in the inland town, which has since seen 62 cases of the district total of 79.
On Friday, Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare department of Gujarat government, Jayanthi Ravi visited the district to take stock of the preparedness in handling the spread of the virus.
“There are pockets in Khambat town like Aling Road, Dattarwada, Akhbarpur and a small area of Kansari road that have been affected. The transmission happened very quickly after a native of the town returned from Surat and tested positive… We have 85 health workers, 19 supervisors and eight medical officers on the field. The entire area has about 7,436 homes and a population of 40,000… It is crucial to pay attention to such smaller areas that have a clustered population,” Ravi told mediapersons.
Jagdish Patel, Director of People Training and Research Centre (PTRC), describes the situation in Khambat as “unavoidable”. He says, “It is a very ancient town and so the town planning is also ancient. The lanes are small and there are no wide roads. It has a very inherent pol (derived from Sanskrit word ‘Pratoli’ for entrance to enclosed area) culture. There is no scope for social distancing; people do not understand the meaning of the term. Almost all families have people working outside who may have returned to the town after the outbreak. Medical facilities in the town are not very well developed, it is not very strong economically. The population is dense. It is a sitting duck for an epidemic.”
Locals in Khambat say that although the town follows the ancient ‘pol’ culture where homes are built in proximity, the spread of the virus is the doing of the residents who did not follow the lockdown.
A resident of Aling told this newspaper, “My neighbours tested positive for COVID-19… I would not blame the administration. It was the people who behaved irresponsibly. Those who returned from outside the town took the lockdown as a time to meet and party together. Later, it was found that they all tested positive and put the entire neighbourhood at risk.”
Another resident of the area said, “Until April 11, we did not feel any threat whatsoever. Most of the people here returned from their workplaces outside the town and everyone was mingling, meeting at the pols and even sharing dinners or indulging in the ‘vaatki vyahavar’ (exchange or dishes by neighbours). It was only when the virus came closer home that we realised that it is here. Ideally, all those who came from outside should have been quarantined.”
When contacted, Chief District Health Officer in Anand, Dr MK Chari said that a special team of medical officers from BJ medical college in Ahmedabad was stationed in Khambat to prepare a report, tracking the spread of the virus, for the perusal of the state government. “Things will be clearer once this report is completed. We will know exactly why the town has been affected so much,” Chari said.