PALGHAR: At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, all the residents of the small Panju Island, off Mumbai, have retreated into 'self-quarantine' since the past two days - making it probably the first of its kind united voluntary action on any isle in the world.
Though virtually hugging Thane's border, around 15 km from Borivali station, the Panju Island is barely noticed by most of the daily commuters on the Western Railway's Borivali-Virar suburban sector.
Panju Island inconspicuously fleets by in seconds between WR's Bhayander and Naigaon Station as suburban local trains cross over it, but is barely visible when long-distance trains whizz along the Vasai bridges on the northern and southern sides cutting the little isle into east-west wings.
"The development came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Janta Curfew' call on Sunday, followed by other tough measures implemented by Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. The approximately 1,500 villagers decided to stay in 'self-quarantine' till March 31, or as long because the authorities want," Sarpanch of Panju village Ashish Bhoir said.
All the daylong 30-odd ferry services linking Panju Island with the mainland at Naigaon are suspended, barring extreme medical emergencies.
Many of the isle's men and ladies who commute long distances as they work in Mumbai-Thane sit in their houses as also the kids, who are enjoying an elongated vacation till schools - hopefully - reopen mid-June.
All visitors, the occasional batch of guided tourists and outdoors workers are banned to enter the island now, while around 100 fishing and dredging boats of the Panju-ites are moored at the shore, as per the village chieftain.
"Fortunately, nobody on the island's mixed age-group population of Marathis has exhibited any signs of COVID-19 so fara but we are taking no chances. So, we unanimously decided to stay in "complete isolation till the danger signals recede," said Ashish Bhoir.
Another resident, Kiran Bhoir, who pioneered India's first "local & history tourism", said the annual Panju jamboree on Hanuman Jayanti starting April 01 has been cancelled.
"Even the weekly congregational prayers (satsangs) are stopped till further orders, as also the annual village sports tournaments in April, to avoid crowding. We are taking all precautions to make sure Coronavirus doesn't attack our beautiful island," Kiran Bhoir mentioned.
Nevertheless, around 10 per cent of the population is poor and greatly depends upon daily wages for survival, as said by Raju Patil who works within Thane factory.
"In an honest gesture, the Sarpanch has directed other villagers to assist all such people and their families by providing them with food and other essentials as and when required Nobody is allowed to suffer," Patil said.