On April 20, Jayesh Mhatre was a relieved man. Mhatre was one of the 171 Mumbai journalists tested for coronavirus disease (Covid-19) on April 15. His friends had heard from the authorities. So he called to check up on his results. “I was told I had tested negative,” he adds.
As part of a special drive, Mumbai’s municipal authority tested 171 journalists for Covid-19 who were on field. Of the 171 tested, 53 journalists were told they tested positive on April 20.
The four-day wait has been grueling for most. For some like Joshi, the wait was long enough to falsely assume his reports were negative. “We were told we would be contacted only if the reports are positive. Since we did not hear from them, we thought we were okay. The call came as a shock,” he adds.
According to tweets put out by the Press Information Bureau in Maharashtra, of the 171 tested on April 15, 53 tested positive on April 20. Of the 53 tested positive, the tweet said 31 have been treated and discharged on April 26.
A large number of positive cases and later a quick recovery within less than a week have baffled many. Joshi adds almost everyone he saw at the testing centre with him turned out positive in the first test.
“Tests can turn negative in seven-eight days. They were all asymptomatic, which means less viral load. Why will the test be faulty or be not done in the right way? These are high standard tests and there is no need to doubt,” said Daksha Shah, deputy director-health department for Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, to a query whether there were any concerns related to testing.
The concern is not unfounded.
Last Tuesday, amid complaints of faulty rapid test kits, the Indian Council of Medical Research advised states not to use them for the next two days, saying it will issue an advisory after its teams carry out field validation of this equipment.
Bhushan Koyande is another photojournalist who tested negative the second time. Koyande was put up at Goregaon’s The Fern Hotel and is not sure of the testing. “May be they were faulty….we had no symptoms and we were not given any medicines after the first test results, except some vitamins two days before the second test,” said Koyande, who tested negative the second time.
Apprehensions aside, what these 171 journalists walked into paints an interesting picture of the city and its dwellers.
Kunal Patil, a photographer with a news wire service and one who tested negative for the second time, returned to a warm welcome at his Mumbai residence. He speaks fondly of his brief stay at Seven Hills, which was equipped with WiFi, a smart television, and other amenities. Koyande is now in home quarantine until May 9 at his Currey Road residence.
A large part of South Mumbai’s old residences consist of buildings with shared walkways, balconies and in some places even washrooms. He says his neighbours raised some issues when he returned, but there are no concerns now. Ajinkya Sawant, another photojournalist who tested negative the second time, did not face a similar fate. Sawant is forced to continue his home quarantine at a hotel in Dadar with his mother. “We live in a chawl with shared washrooms,” he adds.
A local Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) has arranged for his stay. Local MLAs have also stepped up to the occasion to ensure food and essentials are supplied to buildings which have been quarantined. For others like Joshi, the wait is longer. He has tested positive the second time. To be sure, he has checked that his second test was done at a lab different from the first one. “Given I am asymptomatic, I am not worried. I worry about my aged parents,” he adds. His parents have not been tested yet.
Some names have been changed on request