Faced with galloping Covid and at a loss to rein in reckless public behaviour in complying with its ‘Break the Chain’ restrictions, the Maharashtra Cabinet on Tuesday unanimously decided to impose a strict lockdown at least for 15 days, starting from 8pm on Wednesday. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who headed the cabinet meeting, is likely to make the announcement through a web address on Wednesday and thereafter, the government will issue a detailed order on the lockdown. This is despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying in his address to the nation that lockdown should be the last resort of states.
The government expects to bring down the staff attendance to 10 per cent, from the current 50 per cent in government and semi-government offices and expects the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation and other civic bodies to follow suit. Private offices will remain shut, as will business establishments selling non-essential goods. However, vaccination and health emergency services, shops selling medicines and other essential commodities, including milk and food, are exempt from the lockdown.
But the government expects to further tighten curbs on public transport, including BEST and state transport and private vehicles. Railways and air services will continue. The government proposes to prohibit inter- and intra-district vehicular movement. The lockdown period will be used to fortify the existing health infrastructure.
A senior cabinet minister told The Free Press Journal, “The cabinet expressed serious concern over the pace at which the number of Covid cases are increasing daily. The health department has estimated that active cases will surge to 10,32,666 by May 2, from the present 6,83,856. This will exhaust the medical facilities and it will be quite a task to cope with the situation. More importantly, the cabinet was perturbed over the people’s indifference and reluctance to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour despite tightening of restrictions from April 14. Therefore, the cabinet arrived at a decision to impose a strict lockdown for at least 15 days and the decision may be extended, depending on the situation.” He said the government proposed to ban the movement of people and vehicles, which, it feels, is leading to spurt in infections.
“All the cabinet ministers were in favour of a strict lockdown to minimise the spread of Covid-19. Ministers come from all corners of the state, so it also indicates that the entire state needs this measure,” said Public Health Minister Rajesh Tope.
“We have requested the CM to announce a complete lockdown in the state from tomorrow at 8pm. This was the request of all ministers to CM, now it is his decision,” said Tope. “Tomorrow, the CM will announce the decision on lockdown in the state,” he added.
Another minister said School Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad has already announced the cancellation of the state board exam for Class 10.
Earlier, the state government had issued orders curtailing the timings of grocery shops, vegetable and fruit vendors, dairies, confectionery shops and all type of food shops (including chicken, mutton, poultry, fish and eggs), shops related to agricultural implements and farm produce, pet food shops, shops related materials for impending rainy season for individuals and for organisations to just four hours, from 7am-11am. However, home delivery from these shops has been allowed between 7 am and 8 pm. These timings will be changed by the local authority.
The Federation of Retail Traders Welfare Association said the government’s decision would create more chaos and crowding during morning hours. It would be harder for local authorities to control crowds.
However, with the proposed lockdown, the government may further tweak the timings in its order.