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Maharashtra enters weekend of curbs, 2 ministers say may need full lockdown

Health Minister Rajesh Tope said Maharashtra seemed headed towards a lockdown; Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Vijay Wadettiwar said the time for such a step was already here.

In Mumbai on Friday night. (Photo: Ganesh Shirsekar)

As Maharashtra headed into a weekend lockdown, two senior government ministers on Friday spoke of the possibility of an extended lockdown in view of the fast rising cases of coronavirus infection and the stretched healthcare system in the state.

Health Minister Rajesh Tope said Maharashtra seemed headed towards a lockdown; Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Vijay Wadettiwar said the time for such a step was already here.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray will hold an all-party meeting on Saturday to build consensus on the steps needed to break the chain of transmission. A complete lockdown will also be discussed at the meeting.

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“I am not in favour of a total lockdown but the state seems to be heading in that direction. If cases continue to rise and we exhaust our beds we will have no option but to implement a lockdown,” Tope said.

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In Mumbai, the police were out on patrol, but said they were allowing people to return home, and would start strictly enforcing the lockdown only later in the night.

A two-three-week lockdown with tough restrictions would give the state time to ramp up its health infrastructure, he said.

The Minister clarified that there was no immediate threat of the healthcare system collapsing. “When hospitals are overwhelmed and when there is dearth of doctors, we will need a lockdown. For now we have not reached that point,” he said.

Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Vijay Wadettiwar, however, said the situation in Maharashtra was precarious, and that an immediate lockdown was needed.

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“In the present situation we are facing a shortage of oxygen, there is a shortage of remdesivir as well, the state is also facing the issue of vaccine shortage. In the next 5 to 10 days the patient count is going to jump from 5 lakh to 10 lakh and things will get out of hand,” Wadettiwar said.

“I have told the CM that unless we have a strict lockdown for three weeks it will be difficult for us to break the chain of transmission,” he said.

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Wadettiwar said his idea of a strict lockdown was to shut all shops and only allow home delivery of essential commodities.

He said Saturday’s all-party meeting would attempt to build consensus on this issue. Sources in the Chief Minister’s Office said that the meeting would review the impact of the restrictions so far, and discuss whether the state needed harsher restrictions or a complete lockdown for the next few weeks. Senior ministers and leaders from opposition parties such as BJP and MNS were likely to attend, they said.

At a meeting with Chief Ministers on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that lockdowns should be avoided. Night curfew is already in force between 8 pm and 7 am, and curbs have been imposed on gatherings of more than five people during the day. Private companies have been asked to get their employees to work from home.

These restrictions, alongwith weekend lockdowns, will extend through April 30. The first of these “kadak” lockdowns began at 8 pm on Friday evening, but with night curfew already in place, the first few hours of the weekend restrictions in Mumbai did not seem very different from previous evenings this week.

The police were out on patrol, but said they were allowing people to return home, and would start strictly enforcing the lockdown only later in the night. The impact was likely to be more evident in the day on Saturday, but with many exemptions already announced, it was not expected to be as complete as last year’s. Movement of essential workers has been allowed and home delivery of essential commodities will continue round-the-clock; most shops will, however, remain shut.

Relief and Rehabilitation Secretary ?Aseem Gupta told The Indian Express on Friday, “In last few days several associations have protested against the restrictions imposed in Maharashtra. The meeting tomorrow (Saturday) is to bring all political parties together and discuss the situation and the options we have.”

Gupta said if the restrictions were properly implemented and people followed them strictly, the partial lockdown could be lifted sooner. “If not implemented properly, it will continue longer. We could have announced a total lockdown of 21 days to break the viral chain but we are trying to control cases by only some restrictions on movement,” he said.

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