India struggles to contain coronavirus, impose blockade on slums of the city

MUMBAI: India faces an uphill battle to contain outbreaks in the slums of Mumbai's great financial zone amid fears the virus is accelerating in dense, unsanitary alleys where it is almost impossible to enforce everything.

India, the second most populous country in the world after China with 1.3 billion people, has reported more than 5,800 cases of the virus, including 169 deaths, a far cry from the high tolls in several European countries and the United States.

But the western state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, has become an access point with more than 1,100 of those cases.

The Worli Koliwada neighborhood on the Mumbai coast is in an area that had 184 cases reported on Wednesday, according to the latest data, up from 133 the day before. In the area where Mumbai is located, one of Asia's largest slums, 12 had tested positive as of Wednesday, up from eight the day before.

Mumbai authorities say the city's large number of cases is due in part to more aggressive evidence.

The local government says it has been able to quarantine more than 24,000 people to stop the outbreak, but private authorities acknowledge that they face a daunting task in the slums.

In housing societies, we need to locate a dozen people, but in poor neighborhoods we must find hundreds, said an official with the.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a national blockade until April 14, saying it is the only way to avoid a catastrophe in India, where the public health system is weak.

But as police patrolled the main roads on Thursday, food markets deep in Dharavi were open and humming, according to a Reuters photographer.

Police accuse anyone who tries to venture with sticks, but that has no effect, said bank employee Ajay Kewat in Dharavi.

Yashwant Pandey, a police inspector, said it was increasingly difficult to keep people inside.

Sometimes they get mad when we tell them to go inside and threaten to start a protest, he said.

While many slum residents say they approve of the closure, they also said they were struggling to stay within tight-fitting, one-room slums and were concerned about the economic cost.

My daughter-in-law has to change clothes, feed the 3-month-old girl, so I have to sit outside. It feels awkward, said Ismail Mukam, who runs a tannery in Dharavi.

Amid fear of more infections, some Dharavi residents closed their alleys with boards and sticks, including a car and a bicycle.

Note that strangers are not allowed, a sign said.

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