Maharashtra currently accounts for more than 55 percent of the new Covid-19 cases in the country. This forced the Maharashtra government to announce the impulsive imposition of weekend lockdown and night curfew which were announced Sunday late night, to curb the rise in cases.
However, as per an Indian Express report, the state kept silent about its plans to introduce a lockdown during a high-level review meeting chaired by the Cabinet Secretary on Friday. A top government source who was a part of the high-level meeting informed, “The Chief Secretary, Maharashtra, received the largest chunk of time during the Cabinet Secretary meeting. However, no one discussed any imposition of a weekend lockdown.”
This comes after the Centre had made it clear to the Maharashtra government almost two weeks back that weekend lockdowns and night curfews have limited impact on containing and suppressing transmission of the coronavirus.
Union Health Secretary had written to Maha govt asking to focus on containment and not imposing lockdowns
While constantly monitoring the worrisome situation of Maharashtra, the Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan had written to the Chief Secretary of Government of Maharashtra Sitaram Kunte, on March 15 stating clearly that the state’s focus should be on strict and effective containment and not the imposition of a lockdown, as per the Indian Express report.
Rajesh Bhushan in his letter to the Chief Secretary wrote, “Measures such as night curfews, weekend lockdowns, have very limited impact on containing/ suppressing the transmission. Hence the district administration should focus on strict and effective containment strategy.”
The initial lockdown was to provide a breather to boost health infra, not needed now
The Centre in its meeting on Friday reiterated that the objective of a lockdown was to create and enhance health infrastructure, and not to break the chain of transmission. “Lockdown does not solve any problem. The reason to impose a lockdown in the initial phase was that we needed that time to create that infrastructure. We didn’t have enough domestic PPE capacity, there was a lack of oxygen bed capacity; these capacities were created during the lockdown. Lockdown gives you a breather in which you need to put certain things in place. Those things are now already put in place,” the states were informed.
Interestingly, the Centre had already warned the state on March 15 about the possibility of insufficient health infrastructure when mapped against the daily rise in new Covid-19 cases. The Centre said, “Health infrastructure though adequate as of now, the states should plan for a worst-case scenario with sufficient lead time”.
The Centre also advised the state government to better define its containment zones based on contact listing, digital mapping of cases, and contacts. “A higher number of cases outside the containment zone will mean that the containment zone has to be bigger to ensure total containment of transmission,” Bhushan wrote to the state.
On March 30, the Centre had once again urged all the states, including Maharashtra, to train and retrain the surveillance teams, and asked them to review the formation of containment zones on a daily basis.
Maha says lockdown imposed because ‘people have become indifferent’
Despite multiple directions, advice and warning from the Centre, the state of Maharashtra imposed lockdown-like restrictions on the state causing panic. To justify its decision of a complete lockdown on weekends and partial lockdown on weekdays, a senior official from the Maharashtra government claimed, “The rationale to impose the lockdown was after an assessment made by the public health department. The biggest issue was that the people had become indifferent to the idea of Covid-19 appropriate behavior, despite the increase in the number of daily active cases.”
However, the Centre had already flagged the issue of lack of strict enforcement of Covid-19 appropriate behavior by the state government in the meeting. The state authorities were pulled up after the Centre observed a steep decline in fines collection and imposition despite a constant surge in cases.
The government of Maharashtra released a set of fresh guidelines and restrictions late Sunday night resulting in confusion and uncertainty. The public is forced to rely on information reported by the media in bits and pieces. Multiple statements coming from the state leadership has added to the mess.
Shiv Sena’s youth leader Aditya Thackeray took to Twitter to give clarity on hospital admission and BMC war room after many Mumbaikars complained of being turned down by hospitals for beds and admission.
• In case you test covid positive, please seek hospital admission/ bed only through the @mybmc’s ward helpline numbers shared here and across hoardings in the city.— Aaditya Thackeray (@AUThackeray) April 5, 2021
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The health infrastructure is crumbling in cities like Pune which has been worse-hit by a sudden surge in Covid-19 cases.
Currently, in an attempt to ‘Break the Chain‘, the Maharashtra state government has imposed a complete lockdown on weekends starting Friday 8 pm to Monday morning 7 am; night curfew on all days, closure of restaurants and eateries other than takeaways, enforcement of ‘work from home’ for private companies which do not fall under essential services and closure of all public spaces such as temples, gardens, malls, gyms, parlors, etc.
The state machinery informed that a way forward will be issued again after reviewing the situation on April 15, 2021.