New Delhi: In the narrow lanes of New Delhi’s Tughlaqabad Extension, life under complete lockdown has become the new normal. The area in south-eastern Delhi is home to 43,000 people, but their lives are restricted by police barricades cordoning off every lane and bylane — that’s as far as they’re allowed to go, and only to pick up essential goods.
The four lanes from gali number 24 to 28 comprise Delhi’s third-largest Covid-19 hotspot after Nizamuddin and Chandni Mahal — 35 people tested positive for the novel coronavirus here just last week, all of whom are part of the same extended family. At the centre of the family — and the infection — is a 50-something grocer who owns a shop at the intersection of gali number 26 and 27 who, unaware of the virus he was carrying, went about his business.
The grocer and his brother, who runs a cable shop, were the first to test positive in Tughlaqabad Extension, but by the time they could be diagnosed, they had already met and spent time with members of their extended family and friends, and served customers. The infection had already spread.
“About 90 per cent of the 35 cases belong to the grocer’s extended family — they occupy about 15-20 of the 30 houses in gali number 26,” said Pankaj Tiwari, a resident who is also volunteering with the Delhi Police to keep the area cordoned off.
At least 130 of Delhi’s 2,300 Covid-19 cases are in south-east Delhi, while Tughlaqabad is one of 89 hotspots in the capital, according to official figures as on Thursday.
Rules for hotspots mandate that not just contacts of positive patients, but all residents showing flu-like symptoms be tested for Covid-19. About 100 more people have been tested and their results are awaited. In the meantime, the police and workers of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation are trying to ensure the disease stays contained within the area, even though the infected individuals have been shifted to different hospitals and quarantine centres.
“The biggest challenge is ensuring no one steps out of their homes. Police and MCD are conducting awareness programmes, visiting homes in PPEs to urge residents to stay home,” said Satish Rana, station house officer at the Govindpuri police station, which oversees the area.
“Those attempting to step out of barricaded lanes are being reprimanded to go back inside.”
Even doctors living in Tughlaqbad Extension are not allowed to go out. “I work at Nehru Nagar Hospital, but because I live in this hotspot, I can’t step out. What if I am asymptomatic and spread the infection to my patients? Ninety per cent of the cases in this area too were asymptomatic — they neither had a sore throat, nor cough, fever or breathlessness,” said resident Dr Ved Prakash.
The risk of asymptomatic patients in the area has only heightened the need for social distancing and sanitisation. Municipal workers in hazmat suits sanitise the lanes at least three times a day.
“We are given new suits every day. The suits are provided upon arrival, and after sanitisation work is done, they are then packed in containers and taken away to be burnt,” said Rakesh Bharadwaj, a sanitation worker.
With no choice, residents are coping how they can with these curbs.
“We have been locked down for over three weeks now. We only step out to the barricades to pick up essentials,” said a resident from his balcony.
Local shops have started digital payments, orders are placed on mobile phones, and deliveries made to the nearest police barricade. Shopkeepers depute their staff to put the items at the pavement next to the nearest barricade, residents pay digitally, pick up their essentials and venture back inside.
“We also feel scared, but essentials have to be delivered. We ask staff and residents to maintain at least 1.5 metres distance,” said grocery shop owner Mukesh Jain.