In over an hour-long meeting of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray with all district collectors, municipal commissioners, state Covid task force, health minister, police and senior health officials on Tuesday, districts were instructed to make all Covid norms stringent, including limited gathering during marriages, fines for face mask violations, geo-mapping in rural areas to identify regions with high positivity rate, and sealing of buildings where a cluster of cases are found.
This includes a temporary hold on permissions for rallies, processions, protests; guests in wedding ceremonies will be limited to 50.
On Tuesday, Maharashtra recorded 3,663 new Covid-19 cases with 461 fresh cases in Mumbai. At least 39 deaths due to Covid-19 have taken the toll to 51,591 deaths. In Mumbai 11,425 deaths have been recorded so far. While a lockdown is still not on the table and no discussion on imposing it was done, said officials present in the meeting, the CM has warned that a lockdown may be enforced if standard procedures of wearing masks in public gatherings are overlooked by general public.
Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar on Tuesday urged people to take precautions and warned it would be back to a lockdown if people did not follow all precautions. “It’s a matter of concern. Most people travelling in trains don’t wear masks. People must take precautions or else we might head towards another lockdown,” said Pednekar.
From 2,000-3,000 new cases daily in January, Maharashtra is recording 3,000-4,000 Covid-19 cases this month. Reopening of local trains in Mumbai Metropolitan Region has led to a spike in MMR, while nine other districts, mostly in Vidarbha, are noticing a surge in cases and positivity rate.
State Health Minister Rajesh Tope said district collectors have the authority to shut schools if necessary. “People have become lax in adopting precautionary measures. We want to keep social gatherings under control. Masking faces is not something one can compromise with in crowded places,” Tope said. He added that the state has started sending samples to the National Institute of Virology for genome sequencing. From Mumbai, 90 samples were sent to the NIV on Tuesday.
Dr Shashank Joshi, member of the Covid task force, said “The lockdown is not a practical solution at this point” and districts have been asked to strengthen ‘testing, treating and tracing’. “Micro level geo-mapping will be done and areas where the positivity rate is higher than 10 per cent will see stricter enforcement of Covid protocol in coming days,” said Joshi. Buildings in urban areas will be sealed if there are several positive cases.
Dr Rahul Pandit, who also attended the Tuesday meeting, said super-spreading events such as marriages and social gatherings will be restricted and only 50 people per function will be permitted. This rule currently exists on paper but on ground marriages are seeing over 400-500 attendees. “People will have to wear a mask in marriages,” Pandit said. He added that the task force has not advised a lockdown yet.
On January 29, the Maharashtra government had extended Covid-19 related restrictions across the state till February 28. The BMC said that the decision to lift the restrictions or further relaxations will be taken after monitoring the situation and impact of the opening of local trains for the general public. As a precautionary measure, BMC will keep jumbo facilities operational till March 31 even though only 23 per cent of total isolation beds in Mumbai are occupied.
District officials have been instructed to reiterate hand hygiene practices like regular sanitisation and hand washing. Several doctors are now promoting double masks to prevent Covid-19 infection.
While schools and colleges opened in some districts of the state, Mumbai has practised a cautious approach and ordered schools to remain shut. Last week, the BMC, in a letter to the Mumbai University, said that it will decide to reopen colleges by February 22 after a review. In Amravati too, schools except for classes X and XII have been shut.
In Mumbai, BMC has formed a special squad of 300 officials to patrol stations and trains and penalise those without a mask. “We have deputed 100 officials each on each railway line. The aim is to ensure people wear masks in all crowded places. Special squads will also visit wedding venues to check if norms are being followed,” said Additional Municipal Commissioner Suresh Kakani. Municipal Commissioner Iqbal Chahal said a special team will also be formed to enforce Covid related rules.
Currently, wedding receptions are allowed only in open lawns or non-AC halls. “We have been instructed to strictly enforce the 50-persons rule in marriages held in the city. Each of the 24 ward officers will have virtual meetings with banquet/marriage hall owners to stress the implementation of the rule and physical distancing among the attendees. If the rule is not followed strictly, we are directed to impose a heavy fine on the banquet hall owner,” said an assistant municipal commissioner.