The instructions coincided with the state reporting an all-time high of over 40,000 cases. A day later on Monday, the tally tapered to 31,643. In Mumbai, cases added up to over 12,000 in the last 48 hours.
The ‘lockdown’ plan does not have enough takers among politicians, who worry about a public backlash. Experts tracking the pandemic’s progress though are in favour of rolling back relaxations in movement as well as trade and commerce.
“Most cabinet members are against a lockdown. In the first lockdown people suffered, a large number lost their jobs and the economy collapsed,” said NCP spokesperson and state minister Nawab Malik.
Within Shiv Sena there is no consensus on the issue, but NCP has been vocal in its opposition.
In a meeting of public health officials and the state’s Covid-19 taskforce with Thackeray over the weekend, the CM said a Standard Operating Procedure must be kept ready to guide the state in the event another lockdown became necessary. He said restrictions and rules issued are not being followed by the public, adding health facilities added may not suffice in the event of a sharp surge.
Thackeray said a SoP should be put in place to ensure essential services, including supply of foodgrains, medicines, and medical services, are not hamstrung if a lockdown is imposed. Senior officials said a review of the situation is likely on April 2 and a decision could be taken then.
Cases in Maharashtra have risen exponentially in the last fortnight, with 3.9 lakh people testing positive. Between March 1 and March 28, over 5.4 lakh cases were detected, almost as much as in September 2020, the worst month in terms of Covid19 tallies. At present, the weekly positivity rate in Maharashtra is the highest in the country at 22.78%; the state conducts 1.5 lakh tests daily.
Explaining the current Covid-19 situation and facilities available to tackle it, Pradeep Vyas, principal secretary, public health, said infections are shooting up, coursing rapidly through the population. Key facilities, especially beds, ventilators and oxygen supply, would soon turn scarce. Members of the taskforce pointed out that if cases continue to spread, the death toll could also increase and this could be due to delay in hospitalization and testing as well as non-compliance with rules while in home isolation.
“Lockdown is the last resort, but we have to consider it because the healthcare infrastructure is crumbling. There are no beds available in the private sector and public-sector beds too are getting filled fast,” said task force member Dr Shashank Joshi who was part of Sunday’s meeting.
However, Sena MP and party leader Sanjay Raut said he had spoken to Thackeray and suggested that rather than a lockdown which will be very damaging to the economy, more curbs could be imposed. “I am not in favour of a complete lockdown. The working class, businesses and the economic cycle will be affected. I spoke to the CM and he too is of the same view,” said Raut.
Malik of the NCP said instead of a second lockdown, all out efforts should be made to strengthen health infrastructure, boost vaccinations and enforce Covid-appropriate behaviour. “Vigilance is very poor. As a result, people are roaming on roads without masks. Responsibility must be fixed on ward officers,” he said. The opposition warned of protests if a lockdown is imposed. “It will hit the poor hard,” said BJP state president Chandrakant Patil. He demanded that the government declare a package of Rs 5,000 for daily wagers who will be impacted by the lockdown.
Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte said the pace of vaccination was satisfactory though the Centre has suggested speeding it up in areas where incidence of infection was high. Efforts are being made for it, he said.