‘Mumbai like a rural village on a wet Tuesday’

JOHN Gallagher grew up in Creeslough and went to Saint Eunan’s College, followed by UCD, before spending many years in Japan. He is now living in Mumbai, India and working for a translation company.

India, the world’s second most populous country, has 415 cases of the coronavirus, including seven deaths, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

“This is a tiny number in a country of 1.3 billion people, but it’s likely not the true count because there’s been so little testing here,” Mr Gallagher admitted.


India launched the world’s biggest exercise in social distancing on Sunday, with the nation’s population asked to observe a self-imposed quarantine for 14 hours.

Everything was completely normal until last weekend. Shopping centres, restaurants, pubs and most public places closed down from Saturday (March 21). Small groceries and pharmacies are open. People at offices will be working from home where possible from Monday, me included. Sunday was a national all-day curfew. Mumbai is the noisiest city you could imagine, but it was like a rural village on a wet Tuesday afternoon. People were great about complying and co-operating. There’s been very little panic buying either,” he said.

Hospitals are working as normal, which isn’t quite as good as it sounds. The public health system is not very well developed, and majority of working poor people can’t afford to go private. There’s a very good network of private hospitals in the big cities. The system will have great difficulty coping with a pandemic.

International travel has been tightly restricted for the past couple of weeks, and international flights into/from the major airports have been halted altogether for a week starting today. Domestic trains are being scaled back. But they can’t shut down the Mumbai train system completely because it’s the lifeline for 7.5 million people a day out of 20-odd million living in the city.

“The concern is that if develops into a pandemic, there will very little the health services can do to stop it. So, the government has gone all out to lock down movement over the past few days. The messaging has been very clear and consistent.

The question is will it be enough and in time. A lot of people have living conditions that make social distancing basically impossible, and they’ll have very few resources to fall back on in the event of a major spread. So the next few weeks will be a nerve-wracking time for India. People are just hanging on and hoping for the best,” he said.

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