Ajoy Mehta
Ajoy Mehta
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Mumbai: Maharashtra has been hogging the headlines ever since its toll of coronavirus cases crossed the one-lakh mark last week. In an exclusive interview with Sanjay Jog, the state's Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta explains the government's strategy to contain Covid-19 and revive the economy. The Maharashtra government is being targeted over its handling of coronavirus. What is your view? In March-April, our death rate was about 7.8%, which is down to 3.3-3.4% today. This cannot happen without hard work, motivation and a vision.

When the cases were being reported, it was projected that Maharashtra would have 1.50 lakh cases by the end of May. However, there were 60,000 cases, inclusive of active cases, which were just about 40,000 at this time. Maharashtra has been extremely successful in containing the pandemic in spite of odds. Mumbai has been under the scanner for the rising number of cases. Your reaction? Let us first understand, this whole pandemic is urban-centric. Worldover, you will see that hotspots are all in urban centres. Mumbai is densely populated, while Maharashtra has the largest urban population in the country. Almost 95% of the cases are in just 10 municipal corporations, including Mumbai. Urban centres pose very complex challenges of high-density living, which is completely against the concept of social distancing. The biggest solution is social distancing. We all live two yards away from each other.

There is no way this disease will get transmitted but in Mumbai and urban centres, it is not affordable to live two yards away. What is the scenario in Mumbai? What do you expect further? We are already at a level where the curve has flattened in both, Mumbai and Maharashtra. However, there are areas of concern like Solapur and Jalgaon that we are watching. From here onwards, a lot will depend on how much we open up. So every time you make an incremental increase in opening, there is going to be a multiple increase in coronavirus cases. The increase greatly depends on how people conduct themselves. As of now, there is no visible cure. The weapons that we hold in our hands are social distancing, masking and hand sanitisation.

How you conduct yourself is going to decide how this disease will expand. What are your views on claims of non-availability of beds and overcharging by hospitals? We worked out the strategy of three-tier hospitals, including Covid Care Centres, Dedicated Covid Healthcare Centres and hospitals. So quickly, we created two tiers below hospitals, where patients who have very mild symptoms can be cared for, without overloading hospitals. Then, we also worked on hospitals and created a large number of beds there, so that there would be enough beds available. However, only when we said bed allotments would be done centrally did things start falling in place.

Today, I won’t say we are comfortable but we are definitely on top of the situation. What further lockdown relaxations are being considered? Our intent and commitment is to restart everything. However, I would add a caveat to that: To restart everything, we need to be cautious. Caution in this case must be very well thought out. It is not so simple when we look at society. We are hoping for the best. What steps are being considered for the revival of the economy? We have received very excellent reports and suggestions. We are examining all of them. Very soon, you will see we will be taking incremental steps towards opening up the economy and bringing it back to health.

Financial decisions are taken on the basis of cost and benefit. In a situation like this, we will try to reduce cost and increase benefits. However, we are clear about two-three things. Job losses cannot be increased. We need to protect jobs, we need to get the economy going and will have to take care of the vulnerable sections of the population. These will be the three fundamental principles on which we will build the edifice of the reconstruction.

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