#VinitasPune: The Coronavirus Emergency: City Safe As Yet, But Staying Alert Is Critical

3M N95 respirator mask: Image used for representation only.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the new strain of coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern.

Pune is fortunate that it hasn’t affected us, yet staying alert is critical at this juncture. Today, we take a look at the past viral fevers and what we should be alert about

Swine Flu in 2009/2015 and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003 were the two deadly viral fevers that had gripped Pune to the point of frenzy and unlimited nervousness.

I still remember the rush to buy Tamiflu tablets (in bulk) by families in case the Swine Flu fever grips them and tablets go off the shelf; the heavy shortage of masks in medical shops and; the opening up of dispensaries by the PMC in practically every ward, to tackle Swine Flu that had attacked Pune at the outset and was therefore under international health scanner.

Subsequently, we still keep hearing of Swine flu patients, now and then. In 2015, once again it popped its ugly head and this time the social media added to the scare.

As a journalist, a truly one-of-a-kind stories that I covered, was when SARS arrived in Pune in 2003 and how!

The first confirmed case of SARS was in Goa, but in Pune, a bride-to-be acquired tell-tale symptoms of this disease. She contracted it from one of her cousins who had come from Jakarta for the wedding celebrations.

The most natural thing to do was to call off the wedding but then the bride threatened suicide if it was not solemnised. So, the family decided to go ahead with her wedding at the Oldham Memorial Methodist Church in East Street, Pune.  

The moment the wedding was solemnised and the couple were in the midst of cutting the cake, the health authorities of the Pune Municipal Corporation, swooped on the church, as if they were conducting a raid, and whisked away the bride and quarantined her in a private hospital.

However, the wedding reception was scheduled to be held at the YMCA. This time, the bridegroom was adamant to go ahead with it. Instead of cancelling it, the family decided to have it, sans the bride!

That’s when I was asked to cover the story. I went to the YMCA and found the bridegroom standing alone on the stage, receiving the stream of guests who met him to congratulate him on his wedding. In the meanwhile, along with the bride who was quarantined, the entire family who had come along was also quarantined. The medical staff there became over-cautious and actually closed down the hospital for all other patients for a good 10 days! I remember I spoke to the priest who had solemnised the marriage and he was also confined in his home (like a house arrest).

I remember having spoken to him through the wooden grills of his balcony of his modest cottage somewhere in camp. The Oldham Church became the first ever church in the world to be fumigated for a public health emergency! 

When I returned home after the wedding reception, I remember the anguish and shock on the faces of my school-going children who were aghast that I should have gone to cover such a story, which could lead to infection for me and the entire family. I didn’t think much of it and trivialized their concern! For me, it was one of the most interesting human interest stories at the backdrop of the viral outbreak!

I also remember that an entire housing society in Pune was quarantined for SARS and the members were prohibited from moving out of it. There was much high drama which lasted for a few days.

Pune is also always in the news whenever such a viral outbreak occurs in any part of the country, as the National Institute of Virology (NIV) situated in the city, is the national monitoring centre for Infuenza. NIV is also the WHO Collaborating Centre for arbo viruses reference and hemorrhagic fever’s reference and research. 

Over the years, such outbreaks are tackled in a more matured fashion. Take the case of Pune against the present backdrop of Coronavirus. Some people who returned from China and suffered from cold and fever were kept in isolation in a couple of PMC-run hospitals and all of them were declared negative.

In the meanwhile, private hospitals have been asked by the PMC to keep some beds for probable patients of Coronavirus. The Indian Army is already in action, setting up quarantine facility in Manesar for Indian students who are being evacuated by Air India, from Wuhan, the centre of this pandemic.

Can Pune be complacent at any stage?

No, because tackling this deadly virus is best effective when the surroundings are clean. Despite the much hyped Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan and the smart city tag for Pune, there is grave concern for a sloppy solid waste management system.

A leading newspaper reported a few days back that the carcasses of animals, after slaughter, have been lying in vehicles for a month or more. Garbage disposal is still a big issue in several neighbourhoods, particularly in congested areas.

Personal hygiene is abysmally displayed in public with people spitting on the roads and not using handkerchief to contain their cold and sneezes. These basic etiquettes by the public and action-packed cleanliness drive by the PMC would ensure that the virus does not descend upon us, like it has by its predeccessors, SARS and Swine Flu.

The question is: Are the authorities serious? And are we as people, cautious and aware of our larger civic responsibility.


#All views expressed in this article are those of the author and/ or the individuals referred to in this column and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.  


Vinita Deshmukh

Vinita Deshmukh

Passion for the written word that comes alive, not only to tell a story, but to speak out loud about all that's good, bad and the ugly in society...

That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.

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Vinita Deshmukh