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Full lockdown unlikely in Maharashtra yet, tight restrictions first

Maharashtra has recorded close to six lakh Covid-19 cases this month and registered over 2,100 deaths. Over the last two weeks, Maharashtra has recorded a 32.21 per cent rise in coronavirus cases.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai |
Updated: March 30, 2021 3:01:11 pm
In Pune on Monday night. Night curfew has been imposed in the state to check the spread of Covid-19. (Express photo by Arul Horizon)

Amid rising Covid-19 cases in Maharashtra, the state government is likely to release a standard operating procedure (SOP) by April 1 specifying more curbs on public movement, without implementing a full lockdown yet.

The state has recorded close to six lakh cases this month and registered over 2,100 deaths. Over the last two weeks, Maharashtra has recorded a 32.21 per cent rise in Covid cases. On Monday, the state saw 31,643 new cases and 102 deaths, taking the active case load to 3.36 lakh. Mumbai recorded 5,890 new cases on Monday, Pune 4,972 and Nagpur 3,243 cases.

State officials said that for now, local trains will continue to run and economic activities will have minimal impact, but restaurants, malls, public places, private offices and pubs are set to witness strict protocols to reduce overcrowding. Officials said offices will be asked to ensure less than 50 per cent attendance.

Swab testing by health workers at Juhu beach in Mumbai on Saturday. (Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty)

On Sunday, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, while directing the Relief and Rehabilitation department to formulate an SOP for a possible lockdown, had expressed concerns over economic losses if another lockdown is implemented. A second meeting is slated for Tuesday.

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Aseem Gupta, secretary, Relief and Rehabilitation department, said they plan to announce some measures to reduce movement for a few days. “If the desired outcome of reduction in cases is not seen, we will go to the next level and implement harsher measures,” he said, adding, “We don’t want to create a situation where migrant labourers panic and return home. The hardships that happened last year will not be repeated. But people who violate norms will be punished and there will be strict implementation of existing norms.”

Gupta added that they expect cases in Maharashtra to peak by mid-April and then follow a gentle declining trajectory. “Till then, people can expect restrictions in some form for a few days,” he said, adding lockdown will be implemented if all these measures fail.

Vinita Singhal, secretary, labour department, said construction, factories and essential services will continue to function as usual. “But travelling in buses and trains will be staggered to minimise contact. Private offices will be expected to work with minimal staff and stagger work timings,” she said.

Singhal added that at this point, migrant labourers do not need to worry about returning home. “A full lockdown is under contemplation and not finalised yet. We want to educate people and see if that works,” she added.

In the meeting the CM held on Sunday with district officials, Health Minister Rajesh Tope and Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte, the health department had advocated for a lockdown to control the surge in new cases.

Mumbai, Covid A health workers take a nasal swab sample of a person for testing at Crawford Market in Mumbai. (Express photo by Ganesh Shirsekar)

Health Secretary Dr Pradeep Vyas, who has in the past been vocal about his opposition to a lockdown, told The Indian Express that the rising cases over the past one week have forced a rethink. “I was not expecting the growth rate of cases to be so high,” he said.

In the presentation made to the CM on Sunday, Vyas said four districts — Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and Thane — accounted for 60 per cent of the more than 3 lakh active cases in the state.

Nagpur district officials are attributing the surge to a double mutation seen in 15-20 per cent of virus samples.

Vyas informed the CM that going by the current trend, there is likely to be immense pressure on ventilators, oxygen beds and ICUs in the coming days. According to data from the health department, of 60,349 oxygen beds, 12,701 are occupied, and of 9,030 ventilators, 1,881 are in use.

In Mumbai, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has decided to take over all small private nursing homes for Covid treatment.

Concerns are high in districts such as Aurangabad, Nashik, Nagpur and Pune, where the hospital infrastructure is falling short and positivity rates are high.

In Jalna, 71.25 per cent of the total active cases are critical. In the meeting, the State Covid Task Force has advised micro containment zones, increased contact tracing, and faster vaccination.

Dr Shashank Joshi, member of Covid Task Force, said districts such as Nanded are showing clusters of cases. “It is important to push for institutional quarantine. In the absence of adherence to home isolation norms, entire families are testing positive.”

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