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Explained: Why did Ahmedabad hurriedly imposed a weekend curfew?

Ahmedabad curfew: Additional Chief Secretary Rajiv Kumar Gupta has announced a 'complete curfew' from Friday 9 pm till Monday 6 am, allowing only milk and medicine shops to stay open.

Written by Ritu Sharma , Edited by Explained Desk | Ahmedabad | November 20, 2020 5:15:44 pm
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Till hours before the first announcement of a weekend curfew by Additional Chief Secretary Rajiv Kumar Gupta through a tweet late Thursday night, the Gujarat government as well as the Ahmedabad administration were refuting as “rumours” messages doing the rounds about an impending lockdown following the reopening of businesses post Diwali on Labh Pancham day. Late Thursday night, within hours of announcing a 9 pm to 6 am night curfew in Ahmedabad city till the Covid situation improves, Gupta announced a ‘complete curfew’ from Friday 9 pm till Monday 6 am, allowing only milk and medicine shops to stay open. The education department which earlier in the day put out SOPs on the reopening of schools and colleges on November 23, withdrew the order within minutes of the curfew announcement and put the reopening on hold.

What was the Covid situation before Diwali in Ahmedabad?

Authorities had claimed the Covid situation in Ahmedabad was ‘under control’ till 10 days before Diwali. For over three weeks, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) had shifted its focus and resources from Covid management to a massive anti-encroachment drive across the city, bringing down innumerable illegal commercial, residential as well as religious structures, and re-surfacing of roads.
Despite a massive overcrowding in old city areas where people thronged markets for Diwali shopping a week before the festival, on November 11, the AMC extended the timings of popular commercial areas from 10 pm till midnight citing ‘ the festival season’. Earlier the AMC had imposed a 10 pm to 6 am curfew order on these shopping and eating establishments on grounds that youngsters were “overcrowding and flouting Covid guidelines”.

Between this time, till November 12, AMC had also drastically dropped its temporary testing kiosks set up at major junctions from 125 to nearly 50. The reason cited by authorities for this was a low average testing rate at these kiosks conducting RAT tests, free of cost. This also led to reducing the daily testing count by half, from 15,000 to 7,000.

Ahmedabad curfew: Shoppers and pedestrians walk past stalls at the Bhadra Fort market in Ahmedabad in October (Bloomberg Photo: Sumit Dayal)

What happened during Diwali?

However, in the November 12 review meeting chaired by additional chief secretary forests and environment department, Gupta, who is in-charge of Covid situation in Ahmedabad, municipal commissioners, all deputy commissioners and health officers were pulled up over reports about low testing numbers in AMC limits.

Till November 14, the number of covid cases reported from the city was less than 200 as it remained between 160-198. On November 12, AMC declared only four areas under micro containment. A week before Diwali, on November 7, 161 new cases were reported from the city that spiked to 210 on November 16 and 230 on November 19.

A day after the meeting, on November 13, to meet the pressure of this surge in Covid cases in Ahmedabad, the civic body stepped up measures from augmenting the existing bed capacity in both private and government run hospitals along with requisitioning of more private hospitals, doubling the testing kiosks, adding vehicles across Covid services including Dhanvantri Rath, Sanjivani Van and 104 helpline services.

READ | Ambiguity over ‘complete curfew’ in Ahmedabad city triggers panic buying

While the total bed capacity in five government-run Covid hospitals has been increased from 2,800 to over 3,250 recently, private beds too have been increased from 2,700 to 4,000.

The ‘lockdown’ messages

During the Diwali period messages attributed to deputy chief minister Nitin Patel and minister of state for health Kumar Kanani began to circulate suggesting various kinds of lockdowns that could be coming in the state, especially in cities like Ahmedabad and Surat that have witnessed a surge in cases. the state government remained in a denial mode terming them as “rumours”. So much so that Kanani had to come out with a clarification stating the viral message on Whatsapp, attributed to him indicating a lockdown in the residential societies, in Surat city, were fake. The junior health minister released a video clarifying that it was a fake message issued to defame him and cautioning people not to rely on it. Condemning the message issued under his name, he blamed “some notorious elements…. to defame and criticize the work done by government agencies.”

On November 18, Rajiv Kumar Gupta too categorically ruled out imposition of another lockdown and termed the messages as ‘baseless’ and ‘misleading’ and refuted reports of shortage of beds for Covid patients in Ahmedabad city. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

The curfew order

After all the denials, the state government decided to impose a ‘complete curfew’ in Ahmedabad city from November 20 night till November 23 morning during a late night meeting on Thursday, and decided to continue the night curfew thereafter.

Post this announcement and in the absence of any clarity on the curfew, confusion and ambiguity has prevailed among residents who were seen queuing outside grocery stores, milk parlours, chemists and vegetable shops doing panic buying and hoarding essential supplies.

While, the public transport services including Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Services (AMTS) buses would not operate during the curfew hours, panic among residents was reflected with overcrowded bus stations offering inter-district bus services. In the course of the day, AMC declared that no state transport buses would be allowed to leave Ahmedabad or enter. The AMC also directed its Solid Waste Management department to crackdown on those without masks. They would be immediately tested, and fined Rs 1000 if found negative and institutionally quarantined if found positive for Covid-19.

Ahmedabad curfew: People stock up groceries ahead of total curfew in Ahmedabad this weekend. (Express Photo: Nirmal Harindran)

Among those whom the curfew order left confounded were those who had travelled outside of Ahmedabad for the Diwali holidays, those who had travelled outside the state from Ahmedabad. Many are worried if they would be quarantined on return during curfew. Also confused are the CA aspirants who were to take exams on Sunday and those who had planned weddings over the weekend.

What happened to Covid during this period?

Though the official numbers released by the state health department does not reflect a steep surge in cases in the city, the decisions AMC took reinforcing beds for Covid-19 in government and private hospitals and deploying more ambulances suggested a surge. The AMC added 1,300 beds to the existing 7500, thus taking the total number of beds in government and private hospitals to 8,800. It also sanctioned 300 doctors and 300 medical students for Ahmedabad city on Thursday. Further, creating additional support services, 108 ambulance vehicles too was increased from 20 to 40, with addition of another 20.

Also read | Delhi, Ahmedabad, Pune: India’s Covid hotspots and how they are fighting the surge in cases

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