Maharashtra: Shops, eateries can be open till 10pm from Aug 15; rethink on schools likely

After announcing that it will allow fully vaccinated people to travel in local trains in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) from Independence Day, the Maharashtra government on Wednesday rolled out a few more relaxations from Covid-19 lockdown rules
On Sunday, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray announced opening up of local trains for fully vaccinated citizens from August 15. (Satish Bate/HT PHOTO)
On Sunday, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray announced opening up of local trains for fully vaccinated citizens from August 15. (Satish Bate/HT PHOTO)
Updated on Aug 12, 2021 01:10 AM IST
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By Surendra P Gangan, Mumbai

After announcing that it will allow fully vaccinated people to travel in local trains in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) from Independence Day, the Maharashtra government on Wednesday rolled out a few more relaxations from Covid-19 lockdown rules. Shops, malls, restaurants can now operate till 10pm from August 15, while private offices can operate 24X7 with staggered shift hours. Employees in shops, establishments and offices, however, will have to be fully vaccinated. With the likelihood of a third wave hitting the state, the government also made it clear that the entire state will be put under immediate lockdown if the demand for oxygen reaches 700 metric tonnes (MT) daily.

Religious places and theatres, multiplexes and auditoriums will remain shut till further orders, the state has said.

Public health minister Rajesh Tope announced more relaxations after the state cabinet meeting on Wednesday. The new set of relaxations will be applicable even to 11 districts that have higher number of daily Covid cases and high test positivity rate. These districts had been exempted from the eased lockdown norms last month. The positivity and growth rate in these districts have now come down, as per the presentation made to the state cabinet on Wednesday.

Shopping malls have now been allowed to open for businesses and can operate till 10 pm. However, the mall management will have to ensure that all their employees are fully vaccinated and the same rule is followed while allowing customers to step inside their premises. The onus of checking the certificate for full vaccination will be on the management. The hotels and restaurants, which, too, can operate till 10pm, from the current timing of 4pm, will have to ensure that their employees are fully vaccinated and they are masked at all times. Restaurants, gymnasiums and spas are allowed to operate at 50% of their capacity.

The number of people allowed to attend wedding ceremonies has been increased to 200 if it’s taking place at open place like lawns, while the number of attendees is restricted to 100 or 50% of the sitting capacity if the venue is enclosed one. Indoor games have been allowed till 10pm provided that everyone including players on the premises are fully vaccinated.

Private offices, too, have been allowed to operate at their full capacity and for 24X7, provided the office timings are staggered and the employees are fully vaccinated. “The offices can operate at 25% of their capacity per shift and the employees are fully vaccinated. The private offices are for the first time allowed to operate day and night, but they should follow the Covid-19 protocol,” Tope said.

The health minister said that the relaxations come with a rider in the wake of the potential third wave of the virus. The state cabinet has put the threshold of requirement of the oxygen to treat Covid-19 patients. “If the daily requirement of the Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) reaches 700 MT, strict lockdown will be imposed immediately. Maharashtra’s LMO generation per day is 1,300MT, which is expected to go up to 2,000 MT in next few days because of the augmentation measures taken by us. As per the Central government’s direction the state government should augment the oxygen capacity to 1.5 times the requirement at the peak of the second wave. As per that parameter, the requirement would be 3,800MT, against our generation of 2,000MT. Since the possibility of supply of the LMO from other states is less if the third wave strikes, we have decided to strictly impose the lockdown again if the requirement goes up,” Tope said.

The state government had started imposing strict lockdown from April 5 after the second wave of Covid-19 struck the state. The unlocking of the curbs started from first week of June by allowing non-essential shops and establishments to operate for limited period. The state, earlier this month, extended the period of operation of shops and establishment, excluding 11 districts with high covid-19 cases. On Sunday, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray announced opening up of the local trains for fully vaccinated citizens from August 15. State has now announced to roll out few more relaxations for across the state.

“The relaxations will be applicable across the state, including the 11 districts which have high number of cases. There will restrictions imposed by the district administrations restricted to the tehsils that are worst affected of Covid. A few tehsils in Satara and Solapur are going through such restrictions and curfews. The containment at the local level will be effectively implemented in these districts,” the minister said.

The number of the active cases in state has dropped to 68,375, of which 31, 263 have been admitted to hospitals. 11,147 of them are critical, and 4,248 of them are in the ICU. 1,673 patients are on ventilator support.

The 11 districts, which had been continuously reporting high growth rate, test positivity rate for last few months have shown improvement. Against state’s growth rate of 0.10%, 11 districts have reported more growth ranging between 0.11 and 0.39%. State’s weekly positivity rate stands at 3.05%, against which seven districts have reported high positivity rate ranging between 3.40 and 6.64%.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra reported 5,560 new Covid-19 cases and 163 fresh deaths on Wednesday, taking the tally to 6,369,002 cases and toll to 13,464. Mumbai logged 285 new cases and reported nine deaths, while Pune district logged 1,146 new cases.

“We have apprehension of the rise in the cases post festive season and also because of the relaxations rolled out like witnessed after the first wave last year. This time it hopefully would not be that severe because of the vaccination coverage. The people should follow Covid-appropriate behaviour, while the local authorities should ensure that tracking of the close contacts of infected people and testing was done properly,” said Dr Avinash Supe, who heads the state-appointed Covid-19 deaths audit committee.

Meanwhile, people travelling to Maharashtra from other states, will require RT-PCR done 72 hours before their arrival or mandatory isolation for 14 days if they are not fully vaccinated.

Political, social, religious, cultural programmes, election rallies, protests, birthday celebrations at public places remain to be prohibited. Takeaway services at hotels and restaurants can now operate 24 hours. Last order of the dinner in hotels should be placed at 9pm so that the hotel is closed by 10pm.

Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray has, however, said that citizens should not lower their guard in the wake of the drop in Covid-19 cases. “We have to take due care in the wake of the newer variations of the virus posing challenges before all of us. The state government does not like to impose curbs, but the Delta variant is posing a serious threat in countries like US, UK again. We will have to take utmost care at public places,” he said.

Thackeray further added, “The second wave had posed a challenge to oxygen supply not only in Maharashtra, but in other states as well. We have set the threshold of demand of oxygen to treat patients for the lockdown curbs. The lockdown will be reimposed soon after the demand reaches 700MT, required for 30,000 patients (currently, 2,575 patients are on oxygen supply and 1,673 on ventilators).”

Govt rethink on resuming classes

Mumbai A day after it issued a government resolution (GR) allowing schools and junior colleges to reopen from August 17, the state is likely to defer its decision amid the fear of infection among students, which is an unvaccinated class. After strong opposition from the state-appointed Covid-19 task force and the paediatric task- force to reopen schools and junior colleges, the state cabinet has decided to revisit the decision.

Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray held a meeting with officials from the health department, school education department and members of both the task forces to discus the opening of schools and junior colleges.

“Both the task forces, unanimously, opposed the move in the backdrop of the rise in the cases elsewhere in the country where the schools were opened. Secondly, the students are not vaccinated, leaving the high risk of them getting infected. This has necessitated to revisit the decision of reopening of schools and colleges,” said health minister Rajesh Tope. The school education department, through the GR issued on Tuesday, has allowed to reopen the schools for classes 5 to 7 in rural areas and classes 8 to 12 in urban areas from August 17.

Tope said that the decision over the opening of the senior colleges will be taken after the reports from district level education societies and the universities are submitted to the government in next few days. When asked if the likely deferment of the decision of reopening of the schools is the result of lack of coordination within government, Tope said, “Different departments have right to have different opinions. The school education department, however, does not appear to have taken the opinion of the task forces into account while issuing the GR.”

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Monday, October 18, 2021