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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Explained: The new Covid-19 high in Maharashtra

Maharashtra is now contributing over 60% of the country’s daily new cases, and its 1 lakh active cases are more than half of India's. But the surge is as difficult to explain as the decline that preceded it

Written by Amitabh Sinha
Pune | Updated: March 16, 2021 12:52:08 pm
Vaccination for Covid-19 in progress at Rajawadi Hospital in Mumbai. (Express Photo: Amit Chakravarty)

Through the Covid-19 pandemic in India, Maharashtra has had the biggest influence on the national trajectory. With more than 22 lakh confirmed infections, the state accounts for over 20% of all cases in India. On individual days, it has contributed over 40% of all cases during its peak. But even by those standards, Maharashtra’s dominance in the ongoing second wave has been very high.

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Maharashtra, Maharashtra Covid-19, Maharashtra lockdown, Nagpur lockdown, India Covid update, India coronavirus cases, Indian Express Maharashtra’ share in India’s daily new Covid-19 cases

3 in every 5 cases

On Thursday, the contribution of the state to India’s daily count of cases exceeded 60% for the first time. Of the 23,285 positive cases reported from across the country, 14,317 came from Maharashtra.

On Friday, the state reported nearly 16,000 new cases. The national figures were yet to be compiled, but Maharashtra is expected to retain its 60% share for the next few days, considering that the second wave has remained largely confined to this state.

The closest that any other state came to dominating the national case count was Kerala, which at its peak in January was contributing about 45% of all cases in the country. That was when the rest of the country was going through a steady declining phase, raising hopes of an impending end to the pandemic in India.

Maharashtra, Maharashtra Covid-19, Maharashtra lockdown, Nagpur lockdown, India Covid update, India coronavirus cases, Indian Express Active Covid-19 cases in Maharashtra

The surge in Maharashtra has ruined those hopes with the sudden resurgence in the first week of February, which has put it on the path towards a second peak. In September last year, Maharashtra had recorded 24,886 cases in a single day, before beginning the downhill journey. At the rate at which cases are increasing in Maharashtra every day, the state looks set to touch at least the 20,000-cases-a-day mark within the next few days.

As a result of this rapid rise in the detection of new infections, Maharashtra has seen its count of active cases more than treble in the last one month, since the resurgence began. On Thursday, the state saw the number of its active cases go beyond one lakh, the highest since the first week of November. Maharashtra accounts for more than half of India’s 1.97 lakh active cases right now. Kerala has more than 36,000 active cases, while Punjab has over 10,000.

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No clear reasons

The ongoing rise in coronavirus cases is even more inexplicable than the decline that was witnessed for five months. There has been no good explanation for the almost simultaneous decline in the daily case count that every state in the country witnessed since the middle of September, or for the fact that Kerala moved against the tide for full five months, before suddenly reversing course when Maharashtra began to surge again. Similarly, there is no good explanation for the second wave remaining largely confined to two states — Maharashtra and Punjab, which in relative terms is growing at an even faster rate.

With very little restrictions on inter-state movement of people, other states, particularly those that share borders with these two states, should also have started witnessing an uptick in their case counts, especially since there is little to differentiate between the states when it comes to adoption of Covid-appropriate behaviour on part of the people, or the kind of interventions being deployed by the governments to contain the spread. While several states, most notably Haryana, Delhi and Gujarat, have indeed begun reporting higher numbers in the last few days, the situation is far less serious than in either Punjab or Maharashtra.

Growth in Nagpur

On Thursday, Nagpur hit national headlines after announcing a week-long lockdown starting from Monday. Some other towns of Maharashtra, including Nagpur’s neighbours like Amravati, Akola and Buldhana, have already experimented with lockdowns in the last three weeks, with varying degrees of restrictions put in place. The lockdown in Nagpur seemed to be more stricter, though still not of the same severity that was seen across the country in March and April last year. The district administration has already announced several exemptions, including those for government offices and private industry.

While its situation remained largely overshadowed by Mumbai and Pune during the pandemic, Nagpur had always been one of the worst affected cities. With more than 1.68 lakh confirmed infections, it has the seventh largest caseload for any city in the country, after Delhi, Pune, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Thane and Chennai. Nagpur has also recorded more than 3,550 coronavirus-related deaths till now, which again puts its seventh on the list of cities that have reported most deaths.

In the current wave, Nagpur has been reporting more cases than even Mumbai for the last few days. On Friday, for example, 2,067 cases were detected in Nagpur and 1,647 in Mumbai. Pune continues to report the maximum number of cases not just in Maharashtra but in the entire country. On Friday, Pune recorded 3,264 cases, the highest since the end of September last year.

Yet, because of the greater concentration of industries and economic activity in the Mumbai-Pune region, these two cities are unlikely to go in for a lockdown the way Nagpur has decided to do. In fact, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal had made it clear on Thursday that there was no immediate threat of a lockdown being imposed in Mumbai in the near future. In Pune, in a review meeting headed by Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, the government decided to keep schools and colleges shut until the end of the month and brought in some additional restrictions in operating times of restaurants, bars, cinema halls and malls. The government did not, however, put any further curbs on the movement and assembly of people in general.

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