Bengaluru’s ward number 135 -- Padarayanapura has been in the news ever since it was sealed off on April 10 after three residents tested positive for the novel coronavirus. From residents being branded as ‘jihadis’ to being labelled as ‘super spreaders’, the Kannada media and politicians in the ruling government have contributed to the stigma surrounding Padarayanapura and its people. One of the first wards to be completely sealed off in the city, Padarayanapura is still a containment zone as cases continue to be reported from the area.
The ward has 22% of the active COVID-19 cases in Bengaluru and since May, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) officials have conducted randomised testing in Padarayanapura only to identify more and more cases. There have been a total of 138 cases in Padarayanapura so far and it is the highest number of cases in a single cluster in the city so far. There are 25 active cases according to the BBMP’s figures. However, Dr Manoranjan, the BBMP Health Officer for West Zone, says that more people are likely to test positive as randomised tests have resulted in several positive cases.
“Initially, 10 people tested positive via randomised tests. Apart from this, in the last four days, three more people tested positive. We have identified 30 primary contacts and 70 secondary contacts of these three patients alone. Although the number of cases are lesser compared to the initial stage, we seem to be identifying more positive cases,” Dr Manoranjan said.
In early April, when the BBMP sealed the ward, a total of 64 cases of COVID-19 were identified in Padarayanapura. Two hundred and four primary contacts and 319 secondary contacts were subsequently quarantined. Of these contacts, 22 primary and 49 secondary contacts tested positive for the novel coronavirus. “We are awaiting test results of the primary and secondary contacts of the three people who tested positive during randomised testing,” Dr Manoranjan added.
BBMP officials said that more randomised tests would be conducted in the area, and only if there are no positive cases for 28 days, will they think about lifting restrictions. “The cases are expected to decrease as we thought the peak happened in mid-May. But with randomised tests, we are waiting to see if the cases go up or down. Since the area is overcrowded, it is too risky,” he said.
Apart from Bapuji Nagar and Padarayanapura, none of the other wards with COVID-19 cases were sealed completely. BBMP officials said that this is largely because Padarayanapura had been neglected with lack of adequate sanitation facilities.
“The reason here is unlike other areas, the roads are narrow, the houses are small with just one bathroom. The people here are obviously poor and could not afford it. The ward is extremely overcrowded. There was also no education or awareness about the coronavirus, how to maintain physical distance. The people were just unaware,” a surveillance officer from Padarayanapura said.
Due to the overcrowding, BBMP surveillance officers say that unlike other areas where it was not mandatory for secondary contacts to undergo institutional quarantine, it became necessary in Padarayanapura. “The houses here have only one bathroom per house and there are eight to 10 people living in a small space. Physical distancing was not something they could afford to do. So we had to quarantine them immediately,” the surveillance officer added.
BBMP officials say that due to the negative media coverage, the people were reluctant to trust the officials initially. “We started making announcements every hour across every lane in the area. The announcements were made in Kannada and Urdu. In this we spoke about what the virus is, how it spreads, the need to maintain distance and stay indoors. We were fumigating the area everyday too. Gradually, people started trusting us and coming forward to the helpdesk, we had set up in case they felt like they needed help or had any concerts. We decided to take confidence building measures and now people are very cooperative,” Dr Manoranjan added.