Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday indicated that further relaxations would be granted in the state from June 1.
“We should do unlockdown on trial basis and there should be clarity among the people in advance about the activities that we will be starting. The activities should be allowed with certain conditions. It should be clear that if the conditions are not followed, then the restrictions will be restored. So there will not be any confusion,” Uddhav said in a video conference with district collectors and divisional commissioners.
This comes amid the dilemma that the government is facing as it tries to reopen economic and public activities in Mumbai in the face of new flare-ups and fears of a fresh wave of Covid-19 cases.
At the epicentre of Covid-19 infections in India, Mumbai has seen 33,835 cases and 1,097 deaths. On Wednesday, senior ministers met at the Chief Minister’s official residence in south Mumbai to discuss the strategy for the state post May 31 when the fourth phase of the lockdown would end.
A senior minister said the lockdown exit strategy for Mumbai dominated the three-hour long meeting, during which the administration gave an account of the current situation, various arrangements made and future case scenarios. “At present, we are wrestling with how to ease curbs on business and public activities without causing a big surge in cases,” said another minister.
While some of the minister present during Wednesday’s meeting pushed for the resumption of economic activities and private offices in Mumbai as well, sources said that Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta expressed concerns regarding the surge in cases and insisted on permitting only essential activities and those that can be undertaken without many people venturing out at once.
“We shouldn’t be living in a fool’s paradise and think that the number of cases will not rise. There will definitely be a surge in cases once the lockdown is lifted,” Mehta had said during a press interaction on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Mehta justified his conservative approach towards easing of the lockdown. During the meeting, he mapped the demand-supply gap of the health infrastructure in the event of a fresh surge in cases. He also highlighted how an increase in cases was already being noticed after reopenings allowed in non-red zones from May 22.
For the current phase of the lockdown, the governnment has kept Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nagpur and 15 other municipal corporation areas in the red zone. The rest of the state is now in the non-red zone, where curbs have been eased considerably.
The policy to ease the lockdown in Mumbai in a gradual and calibrated manner between June 1 and June 15 was also discussed during a meeting between NCP president Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray on May 25. Based on Mehta’s prediction regarding a surge after reopening Mumbai’s economy, the group of ministers who met on Wednesday also favour a phase-wise approach.
“It was decided to consider the extent and acceleration of the case while planning the easing out,” said a minister. Later, when asked about the lockdown exit strategy, state Water Resources Minister and NCP state president Jayant Patil, said: “We’ll wait for the Centre’s guidelines regarding the lockdown. If the Centre does not extend the lockdown, we will review the situation on May 29-30 and grant further relaxations in areas without cases.”
Patil had attended Wednesday’s meeting. Others who took parts included Ajit Pawar (NCP), Eknath Shinde and Subhash Desai (all Shiv Sena), Balasaheb Thorat, Varsha Gaikwad and Aslam Shaikh (Congress).
While deliberations of resuming public transport in Mumbai also came up for discussion, sources said this is unlikely to be done immediately. The government has already written to the Centre for resumption of some train services along the suburban route to ferry those employed in essential services.
Some ministers, meanwhile, that at least standalone shops should be reopened in Mumbai. Ministers also complained about negative perception being spread owing to inadequate communication with the masses. Shaikh, the guardian minister from the island city of Mumbai, and Desai, complained that the administration was not keeping them in the loop about developments.
To send a strong message that the government was in ‘work’ mode, Pawar has asked all the ministers to start attending their office at Mantralaya.
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