As panic started building up among people with several districts, cities and towns of Maharashtra coming under degrees of restrictions, the Maha Vikas Aghadi government on Monday appealed to the citizens to take precautions and help "avoid" a fresh lockdown. A day after Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray served an ultimatum of 8-10 days to the people, Health Minister Rajesh Tope urged people to understand and cooperate with the government since the state could not afford another lockdown.
"Our state is known for its sensitive, understanding and cooperative people.. We have seen how they cooperated patiently during the (2020) lockdown. Avoiding a lockdown is now in your hands. Another lockdown will be unaffordable. Therefore, it is my appeal to strictly follow masking, sanitising and safe physical distancing to avoid lockdown," said Tope in a social media appeal from quarantine.
The state seems headed on the course for another round of severe restrictions with stringent curbs slapped in Nagpur, Pune, Nashik, Amravati, Akola, Yavatmal, Aurangabad, Satara and others amid apprehensions of a second lockdown. In many districts, schools/colleges have been shut again for offline classes, and the government is deliberating to evolve a consensus on conducting the SSC and HSC Board exams offline in April-May.
After Thackeray's stern Sunday message, political rallies, large social gatherings, religious congregations, etc. are being cancelled or postponed or truncated.
The police in Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and other places swooped on the organisers of such events or restaurants, bars, etc where people were seen not adhering to Covid-19 protocols.
Ironically, even ex-BJP MP Dhananjay Mahadik son's wedding in Pune on Sunday saw a 700-plus crowd, including bigwigs like Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar, Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis and others, after which Food & Civil Supplies Minister Chhagan Bhujbal reported on Monday that he had tested positive. The BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has found that asymptomatic patients and high-risk contacts who step out of quarantine are contributing to the current massive spread of Covid-19 with cases multiplying in the city and in Mumbai Metropolitan Region.
BMC Commissioner I.S. Chahal pointed out that in past two days, there were around 1,500 cases, all asymptomatic and if these started roaming the streets, in less than a fortnight, the figures could shoot up by 10 times. Besides, the government attributes the spurt in cases to the resumption of local trains from February 1 for most categories of people and permitting several religious and social functions, with many blatantly ignoring the Covid-19 norms.
Chahal has warned that asymptomatic patients would be stamped on their hands, and urged to remain in home quarantine, but if they fail to comply, they would be booked by the police or shifted to institutional quarantine. In another key development, the Mumbai Police has now been empowered to take action and book or fine people moving around without face masks, or not following protocols.
"The Mumbai Police is now authorised to issue challans to offenders not wearing a face mask too. Every time we fined you for not wearing a helmet or seatbelt, it was always to remind you the value of your life and safety. Same is for masks. Please take care. You matter to us," said Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh.
The police chief's stern message came after an uproar over Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi getting penalised for his late-night motorcycle sojourn and interacting with people without wearing masks, and subsequently tendering an apology.
Thackeray has reiterated that wearing masks is "mandatory - both before and even after getting vaccinated", failing which the "invisible enemy" will attack.