Mumbai: Software functions better, but vaccine centres struggle to manage crowd

Tuesday saw some improvement in the functioning of CoWIN software, but centres continued to struggle as a large number of senior citizens and people with co-morbidities turned up for vaccination on the second day.

For an hour, the BKC jumbo centre witnessed jostling as huge crowds gathered in the waiting area to get tokens and enter. Amid the risk of becoming a super-spreading event for coronavirus, police security was beefed up to maintain physical distancing amid vaccine recipients.

BMC plans to scale up to 40 vaccination centres from Wednesday to cope with the overwhelming turnout of those wanting to get immunised. On Monday, there were eight centres, which was increased to 22 on Tuesday for senior citizens and people with comorbidities.

In the coming days, BMC plans to vaccinate 40,000 people a day. “We are appealing to people to pre-register and wait for their slot. People should not rush to centres. There are enough vaccines available for all and we have adequate manpower,” Additional Municipal Commissioner Suresh Kakani said. BMC may begin evening slots for vaccination to distribute the crowd throughout the day.

By Tuesday night, the Union Health Ministry allowed Maharashtra to open 29 private hospitals as vaccination centres in Mumbai. These centres, including major hospitals like HN Reliance, Hinduja, Lilavati, Fortis, Hiranandani, Bombay Hospital, are slated to begin vaccination from this week once they receive enough stock.

BKC centre on Tuesday saw several walk-in recipients apart from those who had pre-booked a slot. “People were waiting since 9 am and the software was not working. Senior citizens were trying to get tokens and there were many youths accompanying elderly people who were trying to make way through the crowd and get tokens. The chaos began from there,” said Manish Kekatpure (63), who reached the centre at 9 am and got vaccinated by 1 pm.

Kekatpure said on the first day the BKC centre had very few recipients. “Word spread in our local groups that vaccination would be quick there. So we decided to come here. I met people who came all the way from Navi Mumbai to BKC,” she said.

Dr Rajesh Dere, dean in BKC jumbo centre, said the CoWIN software did not work for over an hour and they could not begin vaccination. “We already had a lot of people waiting for their shot and more kept coming in. That led to overcrowding,” he said. In a video that went viral later in the day, senior citizens could be seen waving their tokens to enter the centre. As soon as the app started working, the centre began vaccinating people in groups of 10.

Kakani said that most recipients rush for vaccination in the morning and crowd centres. “This is just the second day, we have a long way to go. We will ensure everyone registered gets a vaccine. People have to be patient,” he said.

In a bid to manage crowds, several centres on Tuesday stopped on-spot registration and allowed only those who had pre-registered on CoWIN portal. On an average, people took two hours to get immunised in Mumbai centres.

Civic officials said the vaccination speed and performance is directly linked with how fast the software works.

In RN Cooper Hospital, too, the crowd became difficult to manage in the first few hours due to glitches in CoWIN software. Senior citizen Chandrakant Ambavi came once in morning, found a huge crowd waiting and decided to return home. “I came again after lunch. Now the software is working and the process is smooth,” he said.

Centre coordinator Dr Ashwini Yetekar said maximum crowds come in the morning hours and then post-lunch, with few people in between. “Since we need to ensure physical distancing, we are refusing people for on-spot registration. By 5-6 pm we plan to shut vaccination, those who didn’t get a dose are asked to return the next day,” Yetekar said.
Chandu Chandrani (66) had to wait three hours from 12.30 pm to get vaccinated. “I wanted a vaccine fast as I have to travel abroad this month,” he said.

His daughter said the centre was unable to handle the huge crowd. “Centres should provide hour-wise slots or divide entry of people through the day,” she said.

In a press briefing, RS Sharma, chairman of Empowered Group on Technology and Data Management, said that slots are available from 9 am to 5 pm. “If required, we will create an option for one or two-hour slots. The centres will be able to modify slot timing as per their capacity and resources,” he said.

He added that there were glitches when the earlier version of CoWIN was launched, but this time most people suffered delay because they attempted to register on a mobile app while registration was only available on CoWIN. “Glitches will happen as we evolve the IT system. We are watching the system for scalability. It should be able to take care of a huge amount of load,” he said.

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said states and hospitals have been informed that they can continue vaccination until night if required.

In HJ Doshi Hospital, medical director Dr Vaibhav Deogirkar said they vaccinated until 7 pm on Monday until they were able to immunise all those waiting. “We are willing to invest more staff if needed. Our preparations are complete, but with CoWIN it is unpredictable,” he said.

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