At the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in India, Maharashtra may go for phased exit from the 21-day lockdown that ends April 14.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi discusses the next coronavirus combat policies with chief ministers of all states on Friday, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is likely to put forth a gradual relaxation of the restrictions, said sources.
Senior bureaucrats, who are a part of the task force appointed by Thackeray to battle coronavirus, are of the opinion that a full withdrawal is not possible as the state continues to add more numbers to its tally of active coronavirus cases. At last count, Maharashtra has recorded 1,346 positive cases, the highest for any state.
At the same time, state’s fiscal managers, including Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, do not favour an extension of the total lockdown.
“Maharashtra contributes 15 per cent to India’s GDP. As factories remain closed and consumer demand has already hit rock bottom, the state’s economy is bracing for a sharp slowdown, leading to heavy losses to the state’s income as well. It is important to let life slowly return to normal in regions where there is no evidence of community transmission, while rigorously controlling a further spread of COVID-19,” a senior official said.
On the lines of Kerala, another state that has been hit badly by the pandemic, Maharashtra is considering a district-wise relaxation of the lockdown. “In the first phase, internal goods and traffic movement may be permitted in zero case districts and those where no COVID-19 hotspots have been found. The number of persons under home quarantine in the districts in the past fortnight or so may also be considered,” said a senior source.
But the source clarified that even in this scenario, large scale movement of people and mass gatherings won’t be permitted, and the district boundaries and the state borders will remain sealed. At present, there are 10 districts in Maharashtra — Solapur, Bhandara, Dhule, Chandrapur, Beed, Nanded, Nandurbar, Parbhani, Wardha, Gondia, and Gadchiroli — that fall in this category. These are also districts in which very few tests have been conducted to detect coronavirus.
At this point, this is now more an idea than a fully thought-out strategy, as the Maharashtra government, unlike Kerala or Karnataka, has yet to formalise its exit plan.
In Phase-II, districts showing evidence that the spread of the infection has been arrested, and where cases of the home quarantined have not risen much since the previous review, may be considered. Restrictions will only be fully withdrawn after all the identified hotspots across the state have been neutralised, said sources.
Maharashtra is also likely to push for the formulation of safety protocols and guidelines for industries and corporates once the restrictions are withdrawn entirely.
Meanwhile, during the cabinet meeting on Friday, several ministers from Mumbai, which has seen the most number of cases, complained that the relief measures during the ongoing lockdown have not been up to the mark. Just as the state administration argued that there was sufficient foodgrain stock, senior ministers including Mumbai (city) Guardian Minister Aslam Shaikh, Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad, and Minorities Development Minister Nawab Malik complained that the ration supplies had been erratic in their constituencies. Mumbai civic commissioner Pravin Pardeshi, who made a presentation to the cabinet regarding the various measures being taken to combat the scare in the city, has now appointed Additional Municipal Commissioner Abbasaheb Jarhad to coordinate with MLAs from Mumbai, and look into issues raised by them.
Global firm offers help
Global consulting giant, Boston Consulting Group, has offered to help the Maharashtra government in COVID-19 control operations on a pro-bono basis. Sources said that the group has offered to create a dashboard for tracking of the hotspots, patient management, healthcare facility management, and relief activity, among other things.
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