In an irony, two residents of the Panju Island, off northwest Thane, had tested Covid-19 positive after the lockdown ended, sending shockwaves among the other islanders, officials said.
“The two persons were found Covid-19 positive over the last weekend and have been sent for treatment. Other islanders and their contacts came forward for screening, but they were uninfected,” said Panju Island sarpanch Ashish Bhoir.
According to the isle’s Primary Health Centre head Dr Sham Jungare, one person came around 4 a.m. on Saturday complaining of various problems, while another came a few hours later.
“Suspecting them to be Covid-19 cases, we gave them primary treatment and sent them to a government facility on the mainland,” said Dr Jungare.
The cases have alarmed the 2.50 sqkm vehicle-free isle’s 1,500-strong population, especially after it hit the headlines for going into a fortnight-long ‘voluntary quarantine’ from March 22, two days before the state and 3 days before the national lockdowns were announced.
It was billed as possibly the first of its kind united voluntary action on any inhabited island in the world and was highlighted first by IANS (March 24).
Kiran Bhoir, another resident, who pioneered the country’s first ‘local history tours’ in the Vasai-Virar region of Palghar, said during the ‘voluntary quarantine’ and the subsequent lockdown, the island-village remained unaffected by coronavirus.
“In fact, to ensure that nobody could walk out from the Western Railway tracks, which cross through the island, we have barricaded them. It also prevented migrants walking along the railway lines from entering,” said Kiran Bhoir.
It’s only after the ‘Unlockdown 1.0’ started that villagers started stepping out, the limited ferry services to the mainland on the north shore at Naigaon resumed and public movement started.
Other locals admitted that due to their seclusion, many had not developed the habit of wearing masks or keeping physical distance during the lockdown, but now all precautions were being implemented by the village elders.
Virtually hugging Thane’s border, around 15 km north of Borivali station, the Panju Island is barely noticed by millions who commute daily on the WR’s Borivali-Virar suburban sector.
The green oasis of 600 acres with large swathes of salt pans, swaying coconut trees, dotted with rice, fruits and vegetable farms, It nestles between the two arms of the sprawling Thane Creek, which separates the country’s commercial capital from the mainland.
The Panju Island inconspicuously fleets by in seconds between Bhayander and Naigaon stations as suburban local trains cross over it, but is barely visible when long-distance trains zoom along the two creek bridges on the northern and southern sides cutting the small isle into east-west wings.
However, it has a rich history going to the era of the legendary Maratha commander, Gen Chimaji Appa (1707-1740) who fought the Portuguese aggressors from the island. Panju village had given 21 martyrs to the cause of Indian Independence.