On a day Maharashtra recorded its biggest 24-hour spike of 23 coronavirus cases, including 17 in Mumbai, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray announced a complete lockdown of the state till March 31 and warned that the pandemic “may go out of hand if not stopped now”.
The number of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases across the state jumped from 53 to 97 in 72 hours.
Large gatherings of people at various places and the long lines of vehicles at toll nakas compelled the Maharashtra government to impose stricter restrictions from Monday, terming it a “curfew”.
The state also announced sealing off inter-district borders to stop the spread of the virus to districts that have not been affected so far. The decision was taken after people in rural Maharashtra expressed apprehension about the transmission of the virus through people coming from Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Pune.
The government has already sealed inter-state borders.
Despite the near-total shutdown since March 22 midnight, with even suburban trains stopped, people were seen venturing out of their homes for “non-essential” work in Mumbai on Monday.
The city saw usual morning peak-hour jams at Dahisar, Mulund and Airoli toll nakas, even as health officials said the city has reported 37 Covid-19 cases so far.
The city has reported two coronavirus deaths so far, but a 68-year-old man from the Philippines who had tested positive for coronavirus but later tested negative died at a private hospital on Monday.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), in a statement, said whether the cause can be attributed to Covid-19 would be ascertained by an expert committee.
On Monday, a 15-year-old boy became the city’s second-youngest Covid-19 patient. He was in close contact with an infected patient and is currently under treatment at civic-run Kasturba Hospital. An 18-year-old girl also tested positive.
While addressing the people of Maharashtra, Thackeray on Monday said, “Despite the lockdown announced, we saw many people on the roads and travelling on highways. Observing Janta Curfew for a day does not end our responsibility. In fact, it is a ‘siren call’ for the war we have to fight. We are at a turning point, and it is a dangerous turn. The next few days are very crucial. After imposing section 144 of the CrPC, we have now decided to impose ‘curfew’ across the state. Nobody will be allowed to venture out of their homes unless it is an emergency. No more than five people will be allowed on the roads.”
Later, Maharashtra chief secretary Ajoy Mehta issued a five-page notification elaborating on restrictions during the “lockdown”.
Although the CM announced a curfew across the state, the notification does not use the word.
Referring to powers given to authorities under The Epidemic Diseases Act 1897, The Disaster Management Act 2005 and the notifications issued by the public health department on March 13, 14, 15, all the collectors, municipal commissioners, police commissioners, superintendents of police and local authorities have been directed to take necessary steps. The notification has also identified 25 districts (out of total 36 districts) that have found no infection of the virus so far, with directives to authorities to seal their borders.
“Essential and emergency services are anyway operational, with auto and taxis allowed to ply, although it is not a curfew expected in its ‘literal’ meaning. People have not been allowed to come out of their homes except for the essential and emergency services. The term used by the CM is especially to reinforce the gravity of the situation in which people need to stay home mandatorily,” said a top official from Mantralaya.
Apart from the 17 Covid-19 cases reported in Mumbai on Monday, there were four cases in Sangli district and one each in Satara, Pune.
State public health minister Rajesh Tope said, “Social distancing is crucial now. ‘I am my saviour’ is the mantra in this fight against coronavirus. I appeal to the public to follow government orders and not to crowd and cause jams as Section 144 has been imposed.”
A senior bureaucrat said that the state government is expecting a sharp rise in the number of cases, and is therefore taking measures to contain it. “It is observed that there is usually a spike in cases after a month from the first case. There was a discussion about containing that in the meeting today and therefore, the decision to seal borders, including inter-district ones, was taken. The idea is to keep the spike as minimal as possible, so that the situation does not get out of hand,” the bureaucrat said.
The notification has clarified that essential and emergency services like hospitals, manufacturing units of pharmaceuticals, banks, IT, ITES, supply chain of essential commodities, grocery shops, establishments selling other food items, establishments involved in e-commerce, establishments related to agriculture production, petrol pumps and establishments providing services in the containment of Covid-19. The CM said, “Public and private buses will not be allowed to ply, while taxis and private cars will be allowed to carry only two people except the driver. The autos will be allowed to carry only one passenger. The people allowed to come out of their homes will have to maintain social distancing and self-discipline.”
The CM has also directed district administrations temporary facilities at the district level to face spurt, if any, of patients for the testing. He said, during his review meeting with the collectors and divisional commissioners, that help should be sought from the Army to erect such temporary facilities. The notification issued by the government has directed all district heads to identify housing facilities near the hospitals treating Covid-19 patients in case of necessity.
Thackeray also announced that all religious places will remain shut and nobody except the priests taking care of the shrines will be allowed inside. Thackeray also said that he has written to the prime minister, requesting him to suspend domestic flight services.
Of Mumbai’s 17 cases, 10 patients acquired the infection through close-contact transmission. The remaining patients have travel history to foreign countries. One 45-year-old man from Mumbai suburbs has visited four countries — Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia.
On the Philippines national who died, Dr Daksha Shah, BMC’s deputy health officer, said, “He was a positive case of coronavirus who later tested negative. Hence the cause attributable to coronavirus or not will be verified by a technical committee,”
The BMC health department earlier said in a release that the man was declared dead on Sunday night. He was admitted at the civic-body run Kasturba Hospital on March 13 and later shifted to a private hospital.
“His was a case of diabetes mellitus and asthma. He was admitted on March 13 with symptoms. He had developed acute renal failure and respiratory distress,” the release said.
However, even almost nine hours after his death, no one has come to claim his body, which is lying at the morgue of the hospital. But as per the guidelines issued by the Union Health Ministry, as secretion and excretion from a deceased person are considered to be equally infectious similar to that of a living infected person, it is important to cremate the body at the earliest.
Meanwhile, app-based cab service provider Uber suspended operations in the city.
Meanwhile, Ola has not cancelled cab services in the city, but has urged the public to only use it for emergencies.