Uttar Pradesh, which had been praised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for successfully controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus despite its large size and population of 24 crore, unexpectedly announced fresh restrictions, which will be in place for 55 hours beginning 10 pm on Friday (July 10).
So what is this “present situation” in Uttar Pradesh? What are the pandemic numbers in the state currently, and what is the government aiming to achieve by imposing the fresh restrictions?
On March 24, when the first lockdown came into effect, UP had only 37 cases of Covid-19 – mostly in the western UP districts of Agra, Ghaziabad, and Gautam Budh Nagar (Noida), and in the state capital Lucknow.
A little over a month later, on April 27, the number of cases had increased to 1,986, of which 1,556 were active. The state had also seen 31 deaths from the disease.
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By the end of April, migrant labourers had started returning to the state by whatever means they could organise, or even on foot. The first special train to bring them back arrived in Lucknow from Maharashtra on May 2.
Over the next month, about 36 lakh migrant workers came back to the state by trains and buses. The state claimed that every returning migrant was screened, those with symptoms were quarantined, and the rest were told to self-isolate for 14 days at their homes.
Still, by end of May, UP had reported 8,075 cases and 217 deaths. There were about 1,100 hot spots and containment zones across the state. The government attributed the surge to the arrival of migrant workers and to the increased testing, and said it was hopeful that the situation would soon be brought under control.
By then, the central government had decided to cautiously begin to reopen the economy in phases.
On June 1, Unlock 1 began. And by June 30, the state had reported 23,492 infections and 697 deaths – that is, 15,417 fresh cases and 480 new Covid-19 deaths in a month.
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As the epidemic entered its fifth month in India in July, experts had hoped that with almost all migrants workers settled in their villages and towns after screening and quarantining, the curve would begin to look different.
On the contrary, in the first nine days of Unlock 2 from July 1 to 9, UP reported 8,872 new cases and 120 deaths. As of Thursday, the state had seen a total 32,362 cases and 817 deaths.
Among the worst affected districts are Ghaziabad, Gautam Budh Nagar and Lucknow, with 1,352, 1,011 and 855 active cases respectively at present. The number of active cases in the state as a whole stands at 10,373.
The fresh restrictions were announced on Thursday at the end of a 24-hour period during which the state reported 1,248 new cases and 17 deaths. Gautam Budh Nagar and Ghaziabad had reported over 120 new cases in 24 hours. Over the previous week, 18-20 deaths and 1,800-2,000 cases had been reported in the state every day on average.
The UP Health Department says the rise in case numbers is due to a large extent to increased testing, which had risen from about 3,000 tests per day in April to over 32,000 on Thursday.
But what can restrictions that will effectively be in place on only Saturday and Sunday, achieve?
Two things, say sources in the state government: one, restrict non-essential movement that spikes over weekends; and two, ensure the successful screening of every household in the state – something the government wants to complete by July 15.
In fact, in Lucknow, where 85 new cases had been reported in the previous 24 hours, the district administration had issued orders that included the opening of shops on alternate days, etc., even before the order imposing curbs statewide was issued on Thursday night. The Lucknow DM’s order was superseded by the order issued by Chief Secretary R K Tiwari.
With many of the bulk cases coming from offices and mandis, the government hopes to carry out proper sanitisation of these premises, as well as of other premises over the weekend, when they would be free of the public. This step over Saturday and Sunday is expected to reduce the chances of infection while causing minimum disruption.
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