The lockdown option was discussed at a meeting Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had with Health Minister Rajesh Tope, Health Secretary Dr Pradeep Vyas, and the Covid Task Force to consider ways to bring the surge in cases under control. Over the last three days, Maharashtra has recorded more than 1.13 lakh new infections; 40,414 new cases were detected on Sunday.
Chief Minister Thackeray is considering a lockdown for a limited number of days, officials said. Essential services like grocery shops and medical stores will be open and deliveries will continue, but private offices will be advised to encourage employees to work from home or cut attendance in offices to less than 50 per cent.
In an indication of the seriousness with which a lockdown is being considered, Thackeray asked the Department of Relief and Rehabilitation to formulate a standard operating procedure (SOP) for a limited lockdown. A detailed plan will be released soon, the officials said.
Senior state health officials said they have advised a lockdown for at least 15 days to interrupt the chain of transmission. “We have asked the CM to implement the lockdown at the earliest, if possible within a day or two,” a senior health official said.
On Saturday, the state had touched a new high for the number of active cases, overtaking the previous peak of 3.01 lakh cases achieved on September 17. By Sunday, the active cases had risen further to 3.25 lakh. Pune has over 62,000 active cases, while Mumbai has more than 44,000. Nagpur has 42,000 active cases.
On Sunday, Mumbai recorded 6,933 cases, while Pune touched a new record of 8,364 cases. Nagpur recorded 3,999 cases.
More than 1.07 lakh of the 3.57 lakh isolation beds in the state are already occupied. No beds are available in districts like Nagpur, Aurangabad, and Nashik, health officials said. Mumbai and Pune are inching towards a similar situation.
“Hospitals are running full and there is an increase in new infections. In such a situation, there will be a dearth of beds. Lockdown is the only solution at this point to bring the situation under control,” a senior health official said.
Maharashtra has reported more than 5.58 lakh new cases and over 2,000 deaths this month, up from 1.28 lakh cases and over 1,000 deaths in February. In Sunday’s meeting, Health Secretary Dr Vyas projected that going by the current trend, there would be immense pressure on ventilators, oxygen beds, and ICUs in coming days, official sources said.
Data from the health department show that 12,701 of the 60,349 oxygen beds are occupied, and 1,881 of the 9,030 ventilators are taken. “In a week or 10 days, we will reach full capacity of beds available,” Dr Shashank Joshi, member of the Covid Task Force, said.
The Task Force expressed concern over rising deaths — even though the death rate still remains low at 0.4 per cent — as infectivity increases. Nagpur reported 58 deaths on Sunday, the highest for any city in India.
“In Nagpur and Pune, deaths are very high. It is a mutant variant that is at play there,” Dr Joshi said. The Task Force is of the view that the night curfew should be extended to day curbs as well, until the situation is brought under control.
At the meeting, members of the Task Force said delayed treatment and testing was leading to rising fatalities. BMC Commissioner Iqbal Chahal said they expect cases in Mumbai to touch 10,000 a day.
The CM has directed districts to encourage institutional isolation and give priority in hospitalisation to senior citizens. The government may soon announce norms for institutional isolation for people other than those who have doctors’ approval for home isolation. Hospital admissions will be restricted to critical and moderately ill patients. Mumbai plans to rope in 63 nursing homes for Covid treatment; these would add over 2,000 beds.
“Last year, we gradually increased all the health facilities and we created field hospitals, but in the current situation, it seems these facilities are not enough,” the CM said in the meeting. He has directed that 80 per cent of oxygen produced in state would be reserved for medical cases and 20 per cent for industrial use, and has asked districts to ramp up ventilators. A similar rule had been applied last August when oxygen was short in supply.
Officials present at the meeting said the CM also expressed concern over economic losses if another lockdown was implemented. He asked districts to strictly ensure that weddings do not have more than 50 guests, people wear masks in markets, and crowded places are monitored.
The CM also directed Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte to ensure supply of foodgrains, medicines, essential services, and medical facilities to prepare for a future lockdown.
Health Minister Tope said rural areas will need a massive upgradation in infrastructure if cases continue to rise. A facility of e-ICU to link district and civil hospitals to urban centres will be undertaken. Private doctors will be again roped in to help in treating patients in government hospitals.
The CM gave directions to stop the entry of visitors in Mantralaya and other semi-government offices. He asked private offices to restrict staff up to 50 per cent. Government offices may also be asked to reduce their staff.