With the Delta plus variant claiming its first victim and the emergence of a possible third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Maharashtra government on Friday issued a new order, imposing stringent unlocking curbs. Restrictions will remain at Level 3, regardless of the positivity rate and oxygen bed occupancy in the respective administrative units. All administrative units, including Pune and Thane, will remain under Level 3 restrictions, which implies that the previous permissions to open malls and other public places will be withheld. Further, shops and other public spaces will now have to close down by 4pm.
Restaurants can offer dine-ins at 50 per cent capacity, till 4pm on weekdays, and can allow takeaways and home deliveries after. The use of local trains is restricted to medical and essential services, while gyms, salons and spas will remain open till 4 pm and operate at 50 per cent capacity.
Relief and Rehabilitation Department Principal Secretary Aseem Gupta said, ‘‘The order is effective from today (Friday). Using this order, the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) will declare levels (as they do every week) that will be effective from Monday (48 hours notice to citizens).”
The order amends the five-level unlock plan announced earlier this month, under which restrictions in cities and districts were decided according to the weekly positivity rate and oxygen bed occupancy. With the orders issued on Friday, Level 1 and Level 2 districts automatically moved to Level 3.
The government said while it could not risk easing restrictions, the total number of RT-PCR tests and not Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT), would be a decisive factor. The government further said the focus would be on the vaccination of the highest number of people possible.
The order signed by Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte notes that the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG) had designated the Delta plus strain a Variant Of Concern (VOC) with the following characteristics: Increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells, and potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response.
Gupta told The Free Press Journal, “Fundamentally, we have switched on a new state-level trigger for minimum Level 3, due to the emergent new Variant Of Concern (VOC) as per the advisory of the taskforce and the Government of India (GoI). This will remain in force until withdrawn - it will be withdrawn after the passing of the danger of resurgence caused by new variants. Due to huge variation in the positivity rate as per RT-PCR and rapid antigen tests, we have mandated that only RT-PCR tests shall be considered for criteria for level determination.” He further said, grave concerns of resurgence were being expressed due to non-compliance with Covid-appropriate behaviour (CAB) by the public at large.
“We need to rein in defaulters who are making it difficult to relax restrictions and are inviting trouble for the whole society,” said Gupta.
The district administration has been directed to focus on the implementation of CAB and initiate action against defaulters, increase pace of vaccination and control crowding. “District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) shall not require prior permission of State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) for going for a higher level of restrictions or putting extra restrictions,” the order adds.
“While coming down to a lower level, DDMA shall look into two weeks’ trend before accepting a lower level of restrictions. When there is an upward trend in the number of positive cases being identified daily and requiring a higher level of restrictions than the current one, the DDMA, shall do so (increase restrictions) without waiting for two weeks’ trends,” the order said.
If there is an upward trend in the number of coronavirus positive cases, the DDMA will impose higher-level restrictions, the order said. Attempts must be made to achieve 70 per cent vaccination of the eligible population and the focus should be on the test, track and treat methodology to contain the spread of Covid-19, it said.
The government order said flying squads would enforce Covid-19-appropriate behaviour among people and impose fines for violations.