Remarking that Maharashtra’s sudden and steep surge in Covid-19 cases was worrisome indeed, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said that the government would come to know within the next fifteen days whether or not the State was facing a ‘second wave’ of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Minister Yashomati Thakur said Amravati district in Vidarbha region would be placed under a lockdown from 8 p.m. on Monday to 8 a.m. on March 1.
Mr. Thackeray further warned that the administration would be taking strict punitive action against citizens and businesses not adhering to pandemic regulations.
“Today, the State has reported nearly 7,000 cases as opposed to 15 days ago, when Maharashtra was reporting just 2,000-2,500 cases daily. The State’s active case tally, which had dipped below 40,000 a week ago, has now soared to 53,000. In this week, Mumbai’s cases have doubled, so have the numbers in Pune district. This is a very bad situation. I am especially worried that the sudden rise of cases in Amravati district in Vidarbha has begun from the district’s peak that it had attained last year,” said the Chief Minister, addressing the State on Sunday.
Impressing upon the public the need to maintain self-discipline and be socially responsible, he reiterated that it was entirely up to the public to prevent a lockdown.
“I’m asking this question again? Do you want a lockdown? I will observe for the next fortnight and I’ll get the answer. Those who do not want a lockdown are sure to adhere to all regulations, those who seek it, will violate them just as surely,” Mr. Thackeray said, exhorting the public to behave responsibly by wearing masks and participating in the State’s Mi Jababdar (‘I am responsible’) awareness campaign.
Stating that there was an ongoing ‘World War’ against coronavirus at the moment, the Chief Minister reiterated that the face mask was the only shield in this war.
“If we do not wear it, then the hidden enemy will attack us. Hence, even after vaccination, one must mandatorily wear masks. Regrettably, the public had down their guard in the past few days once the number of cases dropped and several people stopped wearing masks under the illusion that the COVID-19 pandemic has altogether disappeared. Even in western countries, a relaxation and dropping of guard has resulted in a dangerous spike and a subsequent lockdown,” said the Chief Minister.
Mr. Thackeray further said that all social and political activities across the State would be curtailed for the next few days.
“While I understand that every political party is interested in party-building activities, we should not contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in this process. The public must also remember that the cases had come down only to due self-discipline and the martyrdom of frontline COVID-19 warriors. While we congratulate such frontline warriors, people must remember that even if they are not such warriors, then at least they must try not be carriers. That will be akin to insulting these personnel who have laid down their lives in combating the pandemic,” he said.
“While there is a lockdown across the State on paper, we have thrown all businesses open, started local trains. Unfortunately, in a bid to give some economic impetus, people were not vigilant,” he said.
Mr. Thackeray said that citizens in the districts affected would have to follow restrictions from Monday onwards.
“I have directed officials to put restrictions in place in districts in Vidarbha and take necessary precautions in the worst-hit areas according to their judgement,” he said.
Apart from the week-long lockdown in Amravati, certain restrictions will be in place in four other districts of Amravati division: Akola, Washim, Buldhana and Yavatmal.
Ms. Yashomati Thakur, who is the district guardian Minister of Amravati, on Sunday reviewed the coronavirus situation there.
She said that the week-long lockdown in Amravati was essential to control the recent spike in cases.
“During the lockdown, all shops, except those dealing in essential commodities, will remain shut along with the government and private educational institutions, private coaching classes, training schools. People can buy items of daily need from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” the Minister said.
Cinema houses, gyms, swimming pools and parks will remain shut and gatherings for entertainment, educational, cultural, religious purposes etc. will not be permitted, she added.
The number of beds for COVID-19 treatment will be increased from 1,400 to 1,600 in the city and strict restrictions will be enforced in nine containment zones declared by the Amravati civic body, Ms. Thakur said.
She said that industries that have been given permission earlier will continue operations, while government offices and banks will work with 15% staff or a minimum of 15 persons.
“Hotels and restaurants will sell only parcels while goods transport will continue unrestricted during the February 22-March 1 lockdown,” she said.
Spike in cases
According to the official, the district has reported 7,470 COVID-19 cases and 43 deaths since February 1, including a record single-day addition of 727 cases on Saturday.
The tally rose by 709 cases on Sunday, after which Divisional Commissioner Piyush Singh announced certain restrictions in Amravati, Akola, Washim, Buldhana and Yavatmal, he said.
The restrictions in other districts of the division will be for 36 hours, barring Amravati and Achalpur, Mr. Singh said.
District Collector Shailesh Naval said that educational offices, non-teaching staff, research staff and scientists will be permitted for e-information, evaluation of answer sheets and result declaration work only.
Restrictions on number of passengers in different types of vehicles have been put in place, while inter-district bus transport will operate at 50% capacity, that too with passengers compulsorily maintaining social distancing and wearing masks, he said.
“All concessions given under the ‘Mission Begin Again’ stand cancelled till 8 a.m. of March 1,” Mr. Naval said.
(With PTI inputs)