Amid coronavirus pandemic, Maharashtra to stamp hands of those in home quarantine
Maharashtra on Monday moved toward a partial shutdown as it fortified defences for the next 20 “decisive days” of its battle against the novel coronavirus pandemic, even as the city’s first patient, a 70-year-old man, tested negative for the virus on Monday. He, however, can be discharged only after he tests negative a second time.
The virus, which entered Maharashtra on March 9 and has infected 39 people so far, is in stage two in India, when there is local transmission from imported cases (stage one) to one or more close contacts. Authorities are on war footing to contain the outbreak in stage three — community transmission — as is happening in Iran, Korea, United States of America (US) and many parts of Europe, with the last stage being an epidemic, which devastated China.
On Monday, the state postponed examinations in colleges and ordered all educational institutions across the state to remain shut till March 31. The government will request religious bodies to reduce gatherings and postpone programmes and processions. Several religious places such as Siddhivinayak Temple said it will remain closed for devotees till further notice.
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In a unique measure, the government has decided to stamp the hands of people asked to undergo self-quarantine with indelible ink, so as to prevent them from coming in contact with other people.
Further, the Mumbai civic body has ordered private establishments to work with half its workforce every day. This is to reduce crowds in public transport. The Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Borivli and Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary will also be shut till the end of the month.
“The next 15-20 days are most important for the state. We will have to take all precautions. It has been observed that cases rise sharply in the second and third weeks and hence the state government doesn’t want to take any chances,” said chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, after holding a review meeting with all district collectors, divisional commissioners and municipal commissioners, through video-conferencing.
He, however, reiterated that there is no need to be afraid, but that precautions are a must.
“We are in stage two, where people who were infected abroad have passed it on to others. We are taking measures to contain the spread in stage three, which may see a sudden spike in number of infected persons if community transmission starts,” said public health minister Rajesh Tope.
The government has also restricted entry of visitors to the Mantralaya, the state secretariat.
The state government will request the state election commission to postpone all elections for next three months, including 1,570 gram panchayats scheduled to go to polls on March 29.
“We have directed all private firms to use 50% of its workforce. They can use their entire strength on a rotational basis. This will help reduce crowds in public transport and other places,” said municipal commissioner Praveen Pardeshi. Around 4.4 million commuters use the suburban railway network daily to travel between home and office.
So far, the state government has isolated 794 people. Of them, 717 tested negative. 108 people are still in isolation wards and 621 are home quarantined. The state also released 442 people after they completed 14 days of quarantine, said health officials.
Meanwhile, state health authorities will streamline the process to screen people coming from abroad. It has also decided to add three more places— USA, Dubai and Saudi Arabia — to a list of countries that include China, Italy, Iran, Spain, France, Germany and South Korea. The state government is quarantining passengers from the above countries if anyone is found showing symptoms of the coronavirus.
Tope said people coming from the above places will be divided into three categories. ‘A’ category will be of those who show clear symptoms and they would be directly taken to isolation wards. ‘B’ category will have senior citizens with health problems who would be put in a quarantine facility. ‘C’ category will include others who do not have any symptoms, but will have to undergo self-quarantine at home.
“The authorities will stamp the back of the palms of those who were asked to undergo self-quarantine with indelible ink. This is so that those people can be easily identified by others and would be prevented from mixing with other people and thus possibly infect them,” the chief minister said.
Tope also acknowledged that the people put in quarantine facilities have complained of poor conditions and said it would be taken care of.
With several people complaining of poor maintenance of quarantine facilities, the Mumbai civic body has also organised the same at two city hotels — Mirage and ITC Maratha — for those who want to pay. The hotels will charge patients for staying there. However, the rates will be half of the regular charges,” said civic chief Pardeshi.
The state government will take beds at hotels around airport where a quarantine facility will be developed for those who don’t want to stay at the government quarantine facility. They have to bear the expenses, which will be half of the hotel rates, he added.
“I appeal to the people to observe self-discipline and avoid going to crowded places and travel unless it’s absolutely required. We have not decided to shut public transport, restaurants and hotels yet. We are expecting people to do their bit as well to prevent the spread of the disease. The state government doesn’t want to enforce law for each and everything,” Thackeray said.
“We will be asking all religious heads to not allow gatherings such as processions and others at temples, mosques and other such places,” he added.
Explaining the government’s partial shutdown, Thackeray said that in the first week, Iran was having only two positive cases, but in the second week it rose to 43 and in the third week, 245, and by the fifth week, the country was having over 12,500 cases.
(with inputs from Rupsa Chakraborty)