Our message to our officers is don’t fear the numbers, chase the case: Aaditya ThackerayUpdated: Jun 02, 2020 00:16 IST
Amid the rising Covid-19 case count in Maharashtra and Mumbai, state minister Aaditya Thackeray explains the logic behind ‘Mission Begin Again’, health infrastructure and the steps the government is taking to contain the pandemic. Edited excerpts:
Various states are emerging from the lockdown. Maharashtra is also facing the additional threat of a cyclone. How do you view the situation?
We have been on top of the situation and fortunately people have been very cooperative and patient. No one in the world has been able to predict how long the Covid scenario will go on. We just started the mission ‘Begin Again’ yesterday as the lockdown has been in place for 2.5-3 months. But it has to be very, very slow, staggered and carefully planned. The important parameter here is the medical response, because it is life over livelihood. We went into lockdown in a measured manner starting March 8, and so the likewise has to be done while coming out of it.
You have decided to open shops, but not malls? What was the thought process?
There have been several deliberations – from observations from the WHO to what other countries are doing. For instance, is single-air circulation more detrimental than not having air-conditioning? Footfall was another factor to see how spacing out and social distancing could be implemented. From June 2 or 3, we’ve made it possible for people to at least step out and get into a little bit of physical exercise, but not go indoors [gyms], or touch surfaces. From June 5, shops on alternate sides of roads will open, and offices will open with 10% staff from the 8th. It is always going to be a trial-and-error method. It is a two-way process which needs cooperation of citizens. The slower we go the better.
How does the government plan to open schools?
June 10-13 is the time around which schools open. Most schools, especially in red zones, are quarantine facilities and we can’t open them right now. We’ve begun a process of speaking to people in the sector on how education can continue. Can we do it offline in green zones? What does social distancing mean? We are deliberating on it. The CM held an hour-long meeting yesterday on education and technology. We can’t let the academic year pass without education. Our school’s ratio is one teacher to 45 kids, so how do we do physical distancing there?
The figures for the state look....
Scary, yes. The principle we have to use as a government is not to fear the numbers, especially when you have a pandemic. In all cities such as New York and those in Brazil, the density of population is very different from Mumbai. One feature is Mumbai’s community toilets and the way our houses are planned and the number of people living in them…
Exactly. This is a vast difference from any other city…In comparison, we have done far better. There’s nobody to blame because the virus is an invisible enemy and there’s no point fighting it. High numbers don’t necessarily only mean more infection. They also mean the government has been more successful in identifying the carriers and isolating them. You will probably have a peak sooner rather than later. We have told all our officers on the ground to not fear the numbers, just chase the case.
Why aren’t you testing asymptomatic people?
We are going by the ICMR guidelines. World over, asymptomatic people don’t need any intervention. They can self-isolate. The guidelines say you have to test high-risk group between fifth and tenth day, and we are going by that.
When you speak of hospital beds, we recall images from KEM hospital of patients lying amid dead bodies...
We have said this before – there are a few things that have to be set in process once someone dies of Covid. You have to seal the body, wait for someone to claim it, but apart from that, we are also clearing a lot more space for the mortuary. The medical system is facing tremendous pressure across the world, as no one has seen so many patients in one place at one time. No matter what you do, you will have a shortage, as you have more people than the hospital or ICU beds. We’ve moved into creating more hospital and medical facilities. We had only 400 beds for isolation wards initially, but in the past 15 days, we’ve gone to 5,000.
There has been some tension between Union and state ministers, say the exchange between CM Uddhav Thackeray and railway minister Piyush Goyal. Are you getting all help and cooperation from the Centre?
I feel if you have two different parties or coalitions ruling the state and Centre, those tussles will always happen. Most importantly, there has been great cooperation within the parties in the state and with the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the Chief Minister. They have been coordinating with each other. That, by far, has kept politics aside during this time. I don’t think this is the right time for any minister to speak about any politics.