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India’s financial hub Mumbai gears up for third COVID-19 wave

India’s crowded financial hub Mumbai won plaudits this year for tackling the second wave of the pandemic better than any other metropolis in the country – and it is gearing up to get ahead of a potential third wave that experts fear could affect children.

Mumbai is building four mammoth centres across the city with units for children infected with COVID-19 and it is working closely with a special task force that includes some of India’s top paediatricians, Mumbai’s Municipal Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal said on Wednesday (May 19).

With more than 25 million infections, India has the world’s second-largest caseload after the United States and many of its states have been grappling with a lack of hospital beds and inadequate oxygen and medical supplies.

Mumbai, in India’s richest state, Maharashtra, struggled initially with one of the highest caseloads in the country but reined in the virus with strict lockdowns, widespread testing and a decentralised COVID management system.

Chahal, widely credited for successfully managing the surge there, said the four COVID care centres with paediatric units, as good as hospitals, will be able to house more than a thousand children along with a parent.

The facilities, which will also have intensive-care units (ICUs), will be ready by next month, well before experts predict the third wave will hit, said Chahal, adding that there is ample funding from the state, companies and even Bollywood celebrities.

The city is spending tens of millions of dollars to build the paediatric units and is already procuring ventilators, monitors and other medical equipment, Chahal said.

Apart from these units, the government is also in talks with hospitals to increase the number of paediatric beds and ICUs.

The paediatric task force, led by Dr Suhas Prabhu, plans to train about 660 paediatricians on how to handle children affected by COVID-19, and then broaden the training to more staff.

Chahal was handpicked by Maharashtra’s Chief Minister Udhhav Thackeray in May last year to lead the city’s response when the virus hit.

Chahal, the son of an army officer, set up local COVID “war rooms” in 24 zones in the city to decentralise the pressure and hasten the response.

Even as other cities in Maharashtra continue to report high numbers, Mumbai’s cases have plunged, says Prince Surana, a doctor who runs three hospitals in the city.

But Chahal says Mumbai is not out of the woods. The city, like the rest of India, is still grappling with an acute shortage of vaccines and has floated a global tender to acquire 10 million doses from private companies, Chahal said.

(Production: Niharika Kulkarni, Tarun Kumar, Sunil Kataria, Marissa Davison)

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