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Covid in Maharashtra: Stricter curbs likely from weekend, not blanket lockdown

After Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray asked the state administration to prepare a plan for a probable lockdown and ruling partner NCP opposed a complete shutdown, state officials are saying it would not be a blanket lockdown as it was last year, but stricter curbs in a phased manner from the weekend
By Surendra P Gangan, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON MAR 31, 2021 12:30 AM IST

After Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray asked the state administration to prepare a plan for a probable lockdown and ruling partner NCP opposed a complete shutdown, state officials are saying it would not be a blanket lockdown as it was last year, but stricter curbs in a phased manner from the weekend. The state government may shut restaurants, hotels, theatres, restrict shop and market timings, even as officials have started drawing up SOPs for the curbs.

The decision is expected to be taken during a meeting held by Thackeray this weekend.

While Covid-19 cases are on the rise at a steady rate, state authorities at district and city levels are reportedly lagging in the implementation of protocol related to tracking-testing and scanning of people entering from other districts. Although central authorities have been insisting upon tracing at least 30 contacts per patient, many districts have failed in doing so, leading to a rapid spread of the infection. Shortage of manpower, non-cooperation from people are reasons behind the lagging numbers in tracing.

The state government has started preparing a plan for more restrictions to avoid crowding at public places. Various departments have been continuously deliberating on curbs, which are likely to be imposed in a phased manner from this weekend. After a series of meetings between various departments, including public health, relief and rehabilitation over the past couple of days, Thackeray is expected to convene a high-level meeting of ministers and top officials this weekend.

“Though it would not be a blanket lockdown, in practical parlance we are using the term to have a psychological impact on people’s mind. We are not in favour of shutting down interstate or inter district travel, or bring down the industrial-commercial activities to halt. But at the same time, crowding and gathering at the public places need to be brought down sizably. For this, the operations of market places, shops and establishments need to be curbed. It is necessary to see that private and public offices operate at minimum possible capacity so that the crowding in trains and buses is reduced,” said an official from Mantralaya.

State health minister Rajesh Tope, too, hinted at stricter curbs, rather than going for a complete lockdown. “We will impose stricter restrictions first, before a complete lockdown. Nobody wants the lockdown, and it would be the last resort if the number of new patients is more than the availability of beds in hospitals and Covid care centers. Before that, we are tapping if restaurants and theatres need to be completely shut as the crowding at these establishments is more,” said Tope.

Tope said that the state administration has been asked to be prepared for a lockdown as it cannot be imposed in a day without prior preparations. “While taking any decision over the lockdown, the state government needs to take stock about the availability of beds, ICU-oxygen beds, medicine, medical staff against their demand. We have been closely monitoring all these things. In case, we succeed in arresting the rise in the cases, there would not be need of lockdown. But it all depends on how people respond to Covid-19 protocols,” he said.

“Nobody likes the lockdown, as it badly hampers the economy, but as the state government we need to adopt a median. Human lives are more important than the economy. We have been trying to reduce the infection. The authorities have been directed to go for the institutional quarantine of the patients, who do not have the proper facility for home quarantine,” he said.

Tope said that though the patients in some districts have been facing hardship to get beds, there is no shortage of beds in the state.

The rapid rise in cases is attributed to many reasons, one of them being the failure of tracing contacts. “It it true that the tracing of contacts in some districts is less than 10, mainly because of shortfall of manpower. Last year, we had pulled staff from various other departments as they were not working because of the lockdown. We had even roped in drive and conductors from the public transport body in Pune. Most of the health department staff is busy in vaccination drive, further reducing the availability. Secondly, the health department staff has been fatigued, owing to the stress over the past one year,” said an official from the department requesting anonymity.

He said that the tracing and testing of the passengers and travellers at the railway stations and bus stands, too, has not been done effectively. “This results in delay in the admissions of the infected people to the hospitals, making the cases complicated. Such high-risk contacts keep spreading the infections among the relatives and close contacts. Since the strain transmits faster, the failure in tracing contacts spreads the infection more rapidly,” he said.

Dr Avinash Supe, head of the state-appointed deaths audit committee, said the state task force has instructed the state government to mobilise manpower from all possible resources. “The task force in a recent meeting has suggested the state to mobilise frontline workers, health workers, including doctors, nurses, Asha workers from wherever possible. Though we have been trying our best, we are weak on this front. In Mumbai, the contact tracing of is expected to be about 200,000 people against the daily caseload of 7,000, but it’s nearly 40,000 a day. Sometimes it is difficult also, like a person is traveling in train from Dahisar to Churchage, tracing his contacts may not be possible. But at the same time, the tracing is important too to break the chain of the spread,” he said.

Dr Avinash Bondve, Maharashtra president of Indian Medical Association, said, “With about 35,000 cases every day, at least 700,000 contacts are required to be traced daily in the state, but the tracing is less than 100,500. The asymptomatic carriers in the age group of 20-45 years spread the virus rapidly as mobility among them is high. They spread it to the colleagues, fellow passengers and then their parents and children. This leads to rapid spreading of the virus because of the lack of tracing.”

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