“Cases should peak in the 3rd week of January … ready to handle 40,000 infections per day”

Yogesh Naik speaks with BMC (Health) Additional Commissioner Suresh Kakani, who has been at the forefront of the civic body’s efforts to contain Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, on Omicron, how the Most of the cases come from skyscrapers and when it expects Mumbai to reach its peak.

Did you anticipate such a large number of Covid-19 cases?

When we heard about the Omicron wave in South Africa, then the UK and other European countries, we thought this wave might hit us. Looking at the transmissibility factor, we predicted the numbers would be huge. Therefore, we were mentally ready to take it on.

Is the BMC ready to face the third wave?

The BMC had counted on the jumbo Covid-19 centers during the first two waves. We decided to continue with them… We now have nine active jumbo installations. We are adding more beds and right now we have 35,000 beds. We have issued a call for tenders for the supply of medical oxygen and drugs.

The general consensus seems to be that Omicron is a soft variant.

To a certain extent, yes. Almost 90 percent of patients are asymptomatic. Things could be better in Mumbai because we have a high vaccination rate and people are following the standards. Very few people require hospitalization or oxygen support, although the rate of transmissibility of this variant is very high. But it is much softer than the previous ones.

Should local trains be stopped for ordinary people?

We only allow fully vaccinated people on local trains… If rules like wearing masks and hand sanitizing are followed, that’s more than enough. From now on, there is no need to stop trains for ordinary people.

Should the hours of shops and restaurants be regulated? In short, does Mumbai need a third containment?

We needed a lockdown earlier to develop the infrastructure and put in place support systems. Our resources are now aligned. We don’t need time to upgrade the resources. If we limit store hours, we experience more overcrowding… But yes, footfall needs to be regulated and we are doing it.

How many cases is Mumbai likely to report when its peaks are reached?

We had expected the cases to peak at 25,000. But in the last three days we have already recorded 20,000 to 21,000 cases per day. According to experts, we will reach a peak in the third week of January. Let’s wait a little longer… We are ready to process 40,000 cases per day.

All positive samples from the fourth week of December through the end were to be sent for genome sequencing. What are the results ?

The results have started to arrive. The last batch that was sent for genome sequencing, 55% of the cases were from the Omicron variant and 45% from the Delta. As of now, Omicron is dominant. By next week, the results of another batch will arrive and tell us which variant dominates.

Many infected do not test because the installations are short. While the government has asked BMC to perform two lakh tests per day, it is currently only performing 75,000 tests.

Testing should be targeted. If we test everyone, we will lose our focus. We target symptomatic, high-risk and close contacts and people who travel to crowded places. We are testing them early to stop the spread. We have 260 test centers.

When do you think the number of cases will decrease?

It’s hard to say. But experts say the numbers are expected to drop by the third week of January.

Large numbers of healthcare workers are affected while being vaccinated. This results in a shortage of manpower in the hospitals.

Some nursing staff are infected, we advise them to mask themselves. When going to hostels or houses, they should not mix freely with people. We have reserved beds for them. Although they are infected, they heal in three to four days. We have also started recruiting more doctors.

You’ve been around Mumbai in the last two waves. Were you able to visit Mumbai this time around and which areas are seeing the most cases?

I started to turn again. Our analysis shows that 93% of cases are reported in high-rise buildings. Most are from Andheri East, Andheri West, Bandra East and Bandra West.

Carol N. Valencia