Maharashtra announces lockdownUpdated: Mar 23, 2020 01:04 IST
Maharashtra on Sunday announced a near-total shutdown of the state till March 31, in line with the Centre’s extraordinary new measures to arrest the spread of the coronavirus, which have effectively confined around a fifth of all Indians to their homes.
The virus on Sunday infected 10 more people and killed a 63-year-old Mumbai man in India’s worst-hit state, taking the number of cases (including two deaths) to 74. The country reported two other coronavirus disease (Covid-19) deaths, including first casualties from Bihar and Gujarat, taking the toll to seven and the number of confirmed cases to 396, up from 315 a day earlier, officials said.
Maharashtra imposed section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) in urban areas of the state, which means not more than five people will be allowed to assemble at one place from Sunday midnight. Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray declared a shutdown of bus services — Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST), state transport and private buses. They will now be used only to carry government employees working for essential services. With the railways ministry ordering a shutdown of suburban train services, this will mean that public transport will come to a halt in Mumbai, effectively stopping movement of millions of people till March 31. Mumbai Metro and Monorail, too, announced closure of their services till the end of the month. Thackeray also announced that only 5% of staff will be allowed in government offices each day, which means the rest of the staff will be called in on a rotation basis. Thackeray said they may extend the lockdown orders after March 31, if required.
Thackeray also extended the ‘Janta Curfew’ — which saw millions of Indians heeding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for a day-long voluntary shutdown to break the chain of coronavirus infections — till 5am on Monday.
In the state, section 144 will be applicable to about 55% of the population governed by 27 municipal corporations and 366 municipal councils and nagar panchayats. Essential and emergency services such as police, hospitals, airlines, information technology and information technology-enabled services, banking, finances, grocery, vegetables, ports, media, energy, petroleum, warehouses and drugs have been excluded from the lockdown.
The state government is also considering sealing its borders. Health minister Rajesh Tope said orders in this respect will soon be passed. He said the state borders with Goa and other states will soon be sealed.
The restriction orders in the state came hours after a 63-year-old man died of the infection at a private hospital in South Mumbai late on Saturday, taking the total number of Covid-19 deaths in the state to two, both of which were reported in Mumbai. Officials said the number of infected people in Maharastra also rose to 74, with five new cases in Mumbai, one in Navi Mumbai and four in Pune. Meanwhile, a security guard from Kasturba Hospital, the city’s primary Covid-19 facility, has been quarantined at the hospital after he started showing signs of infection. His swab samples have been taken, but the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is waiting for his report.
“In the past two days, the number of cases in the state has risen by 22. We will have to stop its spread. I have no option left, but to impose section 144 of the CrPC in all urban areas of the state from tomorrow onwards,” Thackeray said. “We have decided to stop all public bus services in the state. We are closing down all interstate and intrastate bus services, which includes BEST buses in Mumbai, ST buses and private buses as well. The bus services will be used only to carry government employees working for essential services,” he said. He said the government has decided to further reduce its workforce to 5% from 25% as another precautionary measure. It means only 5% of the total government workforce will work on a given day, he stated.
Following the suburban railways, Mumbai Metro and Monorail also announced closure of services till March 31. Metro-1 (Versova-Ghatkopar) has a ridership of 4.5 lakh on weekdays. In a statement issued on Sunday, the Mumbai Metro One Pvt Ltd said, “In continuation of our fight against Covid-19, Mumbai Metro One suspends all operations till 31/03/2020. We urge our commuters to stay home and take all precautionary measures and contribute to the society in fighting this global health crisis.”
The government is worried of community transmission which, if started, would result in sudden spike of cases. Senior officials of the public health department has already suggested complete shutdown to the state government. owing to the same reason. “The number of cases will rise exponentially if community transmission starts. Hence we have suggested for complete shutdown,” said a senior official requesting anonymity.
“If we start complete shutdown from today, we will start getting its results after seven days, which means the number of infected is likely to start declining after a gap of seven days because whatever cases we have found today were actually infected seven days ago,” he said.
The chief minister also said that they have stop multiplication of the infected people. “The number of infected will start multiplying if not stopped now. This is really dangerous. The coming days will bring testing times for all of us as Maharashtra has entered into an important phase that we were talking about. I urge you to follow all the instructions announced by the government as they are for our safety,” the chief minister said.
He said that life is most important, hence people need to cooperate with the government and asked all those who have been stamped for home quarantine to stay at home. “I request their family members to not let them come out of their homes for the next 15 days. Please co-operate with the government. Home quarantine should be followed by everyone who has returned from a foreign country,” he stressed.
Thackeray urged people not to venture and asked the religious heads to minimise gathering in temples, mosques, churches and other religious places. He also said that the workers are an important factor for the economy thus employers should show humanity and pay minimum wages even if they are unable to come for work.
The government has also made adequate arrangements for the transportation of the people engaged in essential and emergency services by deploying BEST and state transport buses in Mumbai and its suburbs. “The buses will ply parallel to railway routes for convenience of these employees. The employees can carry their identity cards, while the people involved in other services like trade of food grains, vegetables will be issued special cards by the local authorities (like ward offices in Mumbai) for entry in these buses,” said Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope.
BEST and state transport buses will ply every five minutes right from Asangaon, Ambernath, Badlapur in central lines, Vashi on harbour lines and Palghar, Virar, Nalasopara on western lines. Tope said that the private vehicles borrowed for essential services will be given special passes and stickers to facilitate their easy passes without any hurdles.
“District collectors and the divisional commissioners have been told to take care to facilitate the transportation of goods vehicles carrying food grains, vegetables, drugs. There is no need to create a separate system for essential services, if it is ensured that the supply chain is not discontinued,” said a key official from Mantralaya.
The imposition of section 144 of CrPC in cities and towns gives more powers to the local administration and police to ensure that the people do not come out of their homes. The section was imposed in Mumbai and other key cities for more than eight days.
“The period of 30 to 35 days from the day the patients with the international history have entered the country is crucial and the likelihood of the spread of virus during this period is more. Countries like China could contain the spread by complete shut down for few days and halted the exponential rise in the positive cases. The clampdown will help us contain the virus spread. The decision about extending this after March 31 will be taken at the appropriate time,” said Tope.
The state government had to take the call after the Central government decided to shut down local services. The BEST and other local bus services and state transport as well as private bus services across the state will remain shut.
According to Mantralaya officials, the shutdown of local trains has compelled the state government to shut its public transport. “There was no point in keeping the BEST, state transport services operational in absence of the local trains. We could not have afforded the local buses running overcrowded because of the non operation of the trains. Same was the case of the autorickshaw, taxi and aggregator vehicles. After the Centre’s decision of shutting down vehicles, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray spoke with senior ministers and chief secretary Ajoy Mehta before announcing the decision,” said the official.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson from the private hospital, where the Mumbai patient died, stated that all precautionary measures have been taken to prevent any spread of infection to other patients or staffers. “The patient was moved to negative pressure isolation ICU the moment when we suspected him for Covid- 19. All our healthcare staff were tested and taken care of by hospital providing them immediate quarantine,” reads the statement.
The Indian Railways announced the unprecedented suspension of all its 13,523 passenger services, including suburban operations, from March 22 midnight to March 31; only goods trains will run during this period. The Centre also ordered a complete lockdown in 82 districts where cases of Covid-19 have been reported, leaving only essential services open. All districts of Delhi, and Noida, Gurugram and Ghaziabad are among the districts being locked down. Other districts being locked down were in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Chandigargh, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karantaka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, and the Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh and Pondicherry.
Meanwhile, the Centre said all chief secretaries informed top officials that there was “overwhelming and spontaneous response to the call for “janta curfew” made by the Prime Minister. Otherwise bustling streets and public places in the national capital Delhi and financial hub Mumbai wore a deserted look as Sunday’s shutdown began at 7am. The day-long calm was broken only once – with a clangour across neighbourhoods at 5pm when, on the PM’s appeal, millions clapped and rang utensils amid sounding of sirens to mark their gratitude to the essential workers still on the ground during the outbreak. Prime Minister Modi later thanked the people for expressing their solidarity.
While the lockdown was not mandatory, PM Modi urged the population of 1.3 billion to help prepare for the challenges ahead. “Let us all be a part of this curfew, which will add tremendous strength to the fight against COVID-19 menace,” Modi tweeted. “Stay indoors and stay healthy.”
Experts said a lack of testing could be masking the true scale of the health crisis in the country. Experts said that a sudden and sharp spike in cases could hinder efforts to prevent the outbreak from taking hold if more aggressive and random testing is not carried out across India. Some even believe that community transmission has already begun silently and that it can be tackled only if many more people are tested at random.
South Korea, which has been able to slow the advance of the disease despite reporting about 9,000 cases, has tested about 280,000 people since February. Though the US has tested 90,000 people, Covid-19 cases have raced to alarming levels in the country, leading to widespread criticism of its authorities for intractable delays in making tests available.
“Asking people to remain indoors is the key to break the transmission cycle in a country like ours with a huge population size. If people don’t go out, then chances of person-to-person transmission will automatically reduce. There has to be judicious use of testing,” said Dr Ekta Gupta, senior virologist with a Delhi government hospital.
(With inputs from Tanushree Venkatraman and Rupsa Chakrabory)