Mumbai: Usually the BSE Sensex can be looked upon as the barometer of the `health’ of Mumbai, the financial capital of the country, but in 2021, fluctuating coronavirus figures overshadowed the Dalal Street ups and downs.
After shutting down the `Maximum City’ in 2020, the pandemic seemed to be on the wane in the beginning of the year, but the virus had other plans.
The city was reporting 500-plus infections every day in the beginning of January 2021. The numbers gradually fell and lockdown restrictions were eased.
The doors of suburban local trains, the arteries of the megapolis, were reopened for the general public from February 1.
But the cases began to rise from the very next day. The peak of the first wave had come in October 2020 when the city had reported 2,800 cases on a single day; in the second half of March 2021, the numbers surged to over 3,000.
Thankfully, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had not dismantled its `Jumbo COVID-19 centers’ set up in the previous year. They were getting full once again and phones at the ward-level `war rooms’ were now ringing constantly.
Most of the cases were being reported from residential buildings and not from slum areas like Dharavi.
On April 4, 2021, the city recorded 11,163 new cases, the highest-ever spike. From the next day, a fresh lockdown was imposed.
The city had 22,500 hospital beds but they were not enough. Patients’ relatives were running from pillar to post for beds, oxygen cylinders and medicines like Remdesivir which were either unavailable or being sold in black market.
To ensure the supply of medical oxygen without disruption was a challenge for the BMC. The situation did not go out of control though there were some hair-raising moments.
Suresh Kakani, an additional municipal commissioner, recalls how 168 patients from various civic hospitals had to be shifted overnight due to the shortage of oxygen on April 17.
“It was the most challenging thing we faced during the second wave. Only our teamwork made it possible to shift those patients without losing a single life,” Kakani said.
As daily cases kept rising, restrictions were imposed, once again, on travel by local trains. Restrictions on gatherings, events and sports activities were reintroduced.
Cracking down on violation of COVID-related rules, the BMC even filed criminal cases against some Bollywood celebrities.
May 1, the foundation day of Maharashtra, was the grimmest day with the highest-ever 90 deaths being reported in the state capital. The opposition BJP alleged that the true figures were even higher.
But the system put in place by the civic administration which entailed that ward-level officials would allot hospital beds instead of patients’ relatives making rounds of hospitals looking for empty beds worked to a large extent, avoiding chaos.
Congress’ Ravi Raja, leader of opposition in the BMC, conceded that the way the Shiv Sena-controlled corporation handled the situation was “appreciable”, but added that “the expenditures incurred weren’t transparent.”
The city witnessed another tragedy when 11 COVID-19 patients died in a fire at a private hospital in suburban Bhandup on March 25.
The pandemic situation began to improve from May-end as daily cases fell back in the three-digit territory.
Omicron, the latest variant of the virus, made entry on December 6 when two people who had returned from overseas were found infected with it. As of December 22, the city had reported 22 Omicron patients, but most of them were either asymptomatic or had mild illness.
Since the vaccination drive kickstarted on January 16, more than 1.74 crore residents of Mumbai have taken at least one dose. Over 75.70 lakh people in the city are fully vaccinated.
The city also saw 27×7 vaccination centers, drive-in vaccination for senior citizens as well as door-to-door vaccination for bed-ridden persons.
A racket which organized bogus vaccination camps for housing societies and companies was also unearthed in the city.
When the second wave of the pandemic was abating, `real’ waves struck the city’s shores in the form of cyclonic storm Tauktae on May 17, bringing heavy downpour with gusty winds.
Landslides at Chembur and Vikhroli on July 18, triggered by extremely heavy rain, claimed 29 lives. Before that, in June, 11 people were killed in a house collapse incident in Malvani area.
The blast of a cooking gas cylinder and resultant fire killed a five-month-old child and its parents at BDD Chawl in Worli area in November. It sparked a political row as BJP leader Ashish Shelar was accused of using objectionable language against Mayor Kishori Pednekar while criticizing the corporation over the incident.
Civic elections are around the corner, but the city did not witness any major political event this year, probably due to the shadow of the pandemic.
The BJP did not let pass opportunities to corner its friend-turned-foe Shiv Sena. The saffron party alleged an over Rs 1,000 crore scam in the ambitious coastal road project, saying that low-quality material resulted in damage during cyclones.
There was also an uproar over a Rs 15 crore tender for the upkeep of penguins at the civic-run Byculla zoo.
The BJP also claimed that the Sena-headed Maharashtra government’s announcement of a plan to create nine new wards was a ploy to delay the civic elections next year.
In August, state Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray launched a climate action plan for Mumbai. Speaking on the occasion, municipal commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal said that by 2050 large chunks of south Mumbai including Nariman Point and state secretariat Mantralaya could go under water due to rising sea levels.
But the city lives in the present and the work on big-ticket infrastructure projects like Metro rail and coastal road continues.
The next year will see elections to the BMC, the country’s richest civic body, even as the shadow of Omicron looms.
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