Within a month of the first case getting detected, Malegaon, the textile hub of Maharashtra has emerged as a major Covid-19 hotspot.
On April 5, Malegaon recorded five positive cases. Within a week the number had gone up to 27 and two people died because of the disease.
With the number of positive cases rising in Malegaon every day, state health minister Rajesh Tope reached Nashik a couple of days ago and said the state government has started ‘Mission Malegaon’.
However, it may take some time for the government to successfully contain the virus in Malegaon city, located in Nashik district of Maharashtra.
As of Sunday, Malegaon city had already recorded 12 deaths and 324 Covid-19 positive Covid-19 cases. Of the 324 people who tested positive in Malegaon, 40 are policemen. Only 20 people in the city have recovered from the disease so far.
Many people felt that small cities/towns like Malegaon were not prioritised as much as Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur. The Maharashtra government jumped into action to prevent the rise of cases in major cities in the state.
Testing and containing the virus still remains a top priority in Mumbai, Nagpur and Pune. However, small cities and towns like Malegaon may see an explosion due to lack of monitoring and testing.
While it remains to be seen whether Mission Malegaon helps in limiting Covid-19 cases, the damage already seems to be done.
Power looms were working
Despite the nationwide lockdown, textile power looms continued operations in Malegaon.
Many power looms were working without any social distancing in place. The administration finally cracked down on this after discovery and 7 power looms were sealed.
Additional Superintendent of Police in Malegaon, Sandip Ghughe said, “When the lockdown started, we first focused on reducing traffic by blocking roads. When we found out about the power looms still working, we sealed those looms and cases were registered against 7 of them.”
This was the first strong message sent out to such small businesses in Malegaon and all the power looms finally decided to close down after the action. However, the fact that power looms were working after the lockdown indicates that social distancing norms were not followed despite the government’s strict orders.
This could have been a reason behind the high number of cases in Malegaon.
Some areas in Malegaon have high population densities. Police authorities indicate that it is 18,000 people per square kilometre. Compare this to Maharashtra’s average population density of 465 people per share kilometre.
Most administrative personnel do not even venture into the most densely-populated areas of Malegaon, according to some people.
Zahur Khan, a senior journalist from Malegaon, said, “Coupled with high illiteracy and poverty, how are people (living) here expected to even understand the magnitude of this disease?”
“There are some areas in Malegaon where 15-20 people live in one house. When half the people in a house go to work, other half relaxes. How can people really understand social distancing? In some areas, neither administration officers go nor the police.”
The work of the health officers was also suspiciously weighed in Malegaon since the pandemic spread during the ongoing protests against the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Medical officer of the Malegaon General Hospital, Kishore Dange, said, “Many people came back after doing Umra and visiting Jamaat. Barring a few, no one came forward to give information about their travel from outside, which was sought with regards to Coronavirus.”
“We had to conduct our own surveys for this then and had to face extreme protests. Asha workers and medical teams had to return back. Everyone questioned us and asked why these teams were asking for their names during surveys. They said they will not give information and kept asking if we are doing a survey about CAA and NRC,” Dange added.
Dange further elaborated that local police refuses to implement lockdown seriously.
“There is a need for the police force to be brought from outside. Gulab Park, Mominpura, Navapura and Kamalpura have become hotspots,” says Dange.
How is it being dealt with now
Now after Tope’s visit, the state government is assuring the people of Malegaon that with extra oximeter to measure oxygen levels in the body and portable X-ray devices, extra PPE kits and masks, Malegaon will be looked after better and the spread of coronavirus would be arrested.
The Municipal commissioner and the deputy collector have been transferred and a task force to deal with the pandemic in Malegaon has been formed.
A week ago, reserve police were also called in to enforce lockdown. But limiting the spread of the virus in the Maharashtra textile hub will not be easy.