Mumbai, India – At least 36 medical workers, mostly nurses, who work for the Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai, have tested positive for the coronavirus, raising alarm over the spread of the virus in the Indian financial hub.
They are among more than 200 medics working in government and private hospitals in the city of 18 million who reportedly have been infected with the virus, raising fears over whether they are getting the proper protective equipment to deal with infected patients.
The vice president of the Clinical Nursing Research Society, Swati Rane, who is also working on the ground amid the crisis, called the issue “chaotic”.
“The main source of infection today is not the COVID-19 ward but non-COVID-19 wards, operation theatres and emergency departments at the hospitals,” she told Al Jazeera.
“The staff working there does not have Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), as opposed to those working at COVID-19 wards. They are at risk as they do not even wear N-95 masks, which are important. If complete PPE is not possible, at least give them masks, gloves and gowns.”
Patients with symptoms of the coronavirus visiting non-COVID-19 wards pose another risk, said Rane. “They could be carriers. Many of them could be asymptomatic, coming in contact with medical staff working at non-COVID-19 wards,” she said.
“They then go to other wards and meet other hospital staff, not knowing they are carriers. Many of the nurses stay in hostels, where toilet facilities and a mess are common. They even watch TV together. Even if one of them is infected, it makes everybody else vulnerable to coronavirus.”
A doctor working at a government hospital in Mumbai said there was a shortage of PPE. “It needs to be addressed immediately,” he said, requesting anonymity.
On April 5, five organisations representing medical workers wrote to the municipal commissioner of Mumbai, Praveen Pardeshi, expressing concern over the “rise of infection among healthcare workers” in the city.
If the test results of nurses exposed to coronavirus patients are negative, the letter said, “They are being asked to join their duties without finishing the 14-day protocol of quarantine.”
One of the signatories was Ranjana Athavale from the Nursing and Paramedical Staff Union, Mumbai.
Athavale told Al Jazeera that the corporation took some steps to address issues raised in their letter, but medical workers stationed at non-COVID-19 wards were still worried. “The PPE kits are available, but not enough to be given to everyone at the hospital,” she said. “That is why only those directly dealing with coronavirus patients are prioritised.”
Mumbai has become a hotbed for the coronavirus, which makes the availability of medical staff even more critical. The city has recorded over 2,000 cases and more than 100 deaths.
More than 16,000 people have been infected across India with 519 deaths so far.
The government of the world’s second most-populous nation has announced one of the strictest lockdowns to prevent the spread the virus that has killed 150,000 people globally.
Pardeshi, the municipal commissioner, said an initial shortage of PPE had been addressed.
“No medical staff is treating any COVID-19 positive patient without PPE,” he said, adding that the source of the infection was where the nurses stayed, as well as patients that went to hospital for other issues but later showed symptoms of coronavirus.
“This is something which is quite difficult to handle,” he said. “It is a professional hazard. I would like to know the percentage of health workers in Dubai or Italy or UK that have been tested positive. I am sure it is significantly higher than Mumbai.”