Maharashtra suspends public gatherings as cases mount

Maharashtra may be on the verge of a lockdown again as fears persist that the state could be in the grip of a second wave of Covid-19 infections. Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, while addressing the people through TV announced restrictions on public gathering, said all social, religious and political programmes in the state would be suspended till further notice and asked all political parties to cooperate in this regard.

ET spoke to several experts in the state who said that there are signs that the state is seeing a second wave and to prevent things from going out of hand the state may have to impose a lockdown. Government officials said that a call on the lockdown would be taken after a week. If cases shoot up like it has been doing for the past few days, then a lockdown would be imposed, said officials.

“There is a kind of second wave in the Amravati-Akola belt, as the cases there have not just doubled but trebled. Fortunately, these cases are just limited to a few pockets in the district; however, if we don’t cut it short this may spread throughout the state and could pose problems for us,” said Subhash Salunkhe, advisor to the Maharashtra government on Covid-19. Salunkhe told ET that the only way to control the pandemic would be to ‘take harsh measures’. “If the people are not responding to appeals by the government and if the situation persists then the government would have to take harsh steps like a lockdown that is unavoidable.”

ET has learnt that a lockdown in the state has been discussed among top officials and the government has been putting it off for now but only barely. The chief minister alluded to a lockdown and the second wave by saying: “We will come to know in the next 8 to 15 days whether this is a second wave or not. People have to decide now. If they don’t want a lockdown then they need to observe Covid protocols of social distancing and wearing masks.” The chief minister’s talk of 8 to 10 days for a confirmation of the second wave also means that if cases jump drastically the state would have to impose a lockdown.

Uddhav said that the cases in Amravati have risen up so much that it has already reached last year’s peak. The chief minister also exhorted healthcare workers to get vaccinated without any reservations and that the vaccines did not have any side-effects. Officials told ET that on Monday morning private hospitals in the city would be asked to reserve 80% of beds again that would be used for Covid cases. Several districts of Maharashtra are now going in for ‘lockdown’ or imposing ‘curfew’. Pune has declared a curfew from 11 pm to 6 am and only essential services would be exempted during this time.

All educational institutions, that include schools, colleges, coaching classes will now remain shut till February 28. The Pune administration has said that hotels, restaurants which were allowed to function till 1 am, will have to shut at 11 pm. Beside Pune, Akola, Amravati, Yavatmal, Wardha have all gone in to a lockdown or curfew mode where by restrictions have been put on all kinds of establishments barring essential services. Amravati district will be placed under a week-long lockdown from 8 pm on February 22, said minister Yashomati Thakur. The lockdown will be in force till 8 am on March 1.

Restrictions pertain to the number of people travelling state transport buses as well as autorickshaws and personal vehicles. Wedding venues can also not have more than 25 people. Nashik too has imposed a curfew from 11 am to 5 pm. The district administration has now said that they would be fining anyone without a mask Rs 1,000. Cabinet minister Chaggan Bhujbal said that as of now they have not decided to shut down educational institutions in Nashik.

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