Uddhav Thackeray (HT FILE)
Uddhav Thackeray (HT FILE)

Ramp up Covid-19 safety efforts to September 2020 level, Uddhav tells MMR

Amid concern over the spike in Covid-19 cases, Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday directed Mumbai as well as other civic bodies in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) to ensure that its preparation and infrastructure should be at par with their efforts in September last year — the peak of the outbreak.
By Surendra P Gangan, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 12:46 AM IST

Amid concern over the spike in Covid-19 cases, Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday directed Mumbai as well as other civic bodies in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) to ensure that its preparation and infrastructure should be at par with their efforts in September last year — the peak of the outbreak.

He also asked the civic bodies to ensure strict implementation of Covid-19 protocol rather than imposing more curbs such as lockdown to contain the spread of the virus, reiterating that he was not keen on re-imposing a lockdown.

Thackeray held a review meeting with the commissioners of MMR’s nine municipal corporations on Tuesday in the wake of the upsurge over the past two weeks. Further, he held a separate meeting to discuss the situation in Mumbai.

The civic bodies have been told to take the upsurge very seriously and not to tolerate laxity in mitigation measures. The municipal corporations have also been told to ramp up health infrastructure to match the capacity of the beds seen during the peak of the pandemic in September last year.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra reported fewer cases for a second consecutive day after a spike in cases over the earlier three days. A total of 6,218 new cases and 51 deaths were reported on Tuesday, taking the state tally to 2,112,313 and toll to 51,857. Like in the state, Mumbai reported a drop in cases for a second consecutive day by reporting 643 cases, taking the tally to 320,532 and the toll to 11,454 with eight new deaths reported on Tuesday. Pune city remained on top in the daily caseload on Tuesday by logging 679 cases, while other major cities like Nagpur city (544), Amravati city (515)continued to report a high number of cases.

According to state officials, the municipal corporations have also been directed to take strict actions against managements violating norms at super-spreader events like wedding ceremonies by taking criminal action against them. They have also been told to ensure that the people follow Covid- appropriate behaviour stringently.

“People in these cities, surrounding the financial capital of the country, are not in favour of another lockdown, which may badly hamper the economy and livelihood. The state government also wants to resort to imposing curbs as a last resort after tapping into another measures. As part of it, the CM has asked the local bodies for preventive measures such as penalising people for not wearing masks, overcrowding at public places and violating the protocol. Crowding in limited numbers would be fine if people followed Covid-appropriate behaviour and help contain the spread. The corporations have been directed to get their act together in this direction,” said an official from the health department.

Meanwhile, ICMR’s director general Dr Balram Bhargawa clarified in his weekly briefing that there was no direct link between the recent surge in cases in Maharashtra and other states and mutant virus strains N440K and E484Q of Covid-19. “These two strains have been detected in other countries too and are not specific to India. The E484Q strain was earlier detected in four sequences in Maharashtra as early as March and July last year. N440K mutation was reported on 13 difference occasions between May and September last year in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Assam. The Maharashtra upsurge cannot be attributed to the currently discussed point mutations. The situation is, however, constantly monitored,” the ICMR statement stated. The upsurge in five districts (Amravati, Akola, Yavatmal, Washim and Buldhana) of Vidarabha was 306% in two weeks as the daily caseload rose to 1,364 on February 22, from 705 on February 8. It was 429% (52 to 275 cases) in two weeks in four districts of Aurangabad (Aurangabad, Jalna, Parbhani, Hingoli), the district which share boundaries with Vidarbha. During the period, the rise was 189% (327 to 946 cases) in other six districts of Eastern Vidarbha, while it was just 57% in five districts (Nashik, Dhule, Nandurbar, Ahmedabad and Jalgaon).

The upsurge reported in MMR, which comprise nine cities, including Mumbai and Thane, was 93% (daily caseload rose from 705 to 1,364) between February 8 and February 22. It was 91% in Pune division (Pune, Solapur and Satara districts) during this period.

Dr Subhash Salunkhe, state government’s advisor on Covid-19, said the upsurge witnessed in western Vidarbha can spread out to other parts if micro containment measures were not taken. “Initially the transmission was from cities like Mumbai, Pune to peripheral and rural areas and took about 5-6 months, but this time it is from rural areas and may take only one month. It is spreading to the neighbouring districts of Marathwada from Vidarbha and if the micro containment measures are not taken, it will spread rapidly to other areas. If it spread rapidly to other parts, we will have to go for the lockdown and bring back the number of commuters in trains down by restricting them only to essential services,” he said.

More districts imposed curbs on movement in the wake of the rise in the number of Covid-19 cases. After Akola, Amravati, Yavatmal in Vidarbha, Jalna district administration announced to keep schools and colleges (except Class 10 and 12) and weekly markets shut till March 31. The district administration has also decided to conduct antigen tests on super spreaders.

Meanwhile, the turnout for the vaccination drive improved on Tuesday as 42,319 heath care workers and front line workers were inoculated at 671 centres across the state. The total number of beneficiaries stands at 948,483, including 634,865 HCWs and 313,618 FLWs. Of them, 79,788 are HCWs who have been given a second dose of the vaccine.

Additional municipal commissioner of BMC, Suresh Kakani, said, “We are approaching summer season, which required more use of air-conditioning units, water coolers. Due to this, we should not find ourselves at the receiving end of an untoward incident in the middle of a pandemic.”

Kakani said that the upsurge in Mumbai is also because of the rise in the number of commuters to more than 2 million after travel was allowed to all from February 1.

The chief minister also directed BMC to strengthen its vigilance system to ensure Covid-19 rules are followed at public places and at public gatherings, wedding ceremonies, bars, pubs, restaurants, and gardens. “We have been asked to take the list of all bookings at marriage halls, banquet halls, gymkhanas, and cinema halls, for any kinds of gatherings. This will make it easier to regulate them by organising frequent inspections at the time of the ceremonies or gatherings, the CM said” according to Kakani.

BMC aims to generate support from Mumbaiites to ensure everyone is wearing masks, instead of relying on clean-up marshals alone to fine people not wearing face masks. BMC will now start more awareness campaigns across the city. A senior civic officer said, “If someone is not wearing a mask in a local train, his fellow passengers should point out to him that it is important to wear a masks. We need to build more awareness in people.”

As of Tuesday, Mumbai has 13,131 beds for symptomatic covid-19 patients, 1559 ICU beds, and 8,057 oxygen beds, which will be increased in the coming week. Kakani also said that they have aggravated action against people who violated Covid-19 protocol. “We took action against 23,000 people and establishments today, against 15,000 yesterday, for not wearing masks, allowing consumers more than the allotted percentage. We are currently not planning restrictions on operations of establishments like hotels or reducing working hours of private offices and expect them to operate at permitted norms,” he said.

Abhijeet Bangar, commissioner, Navi Mumbai municipal corporation, said that they have started ramping up public health infrastructure.

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