By Quaid Najmi
Besides combating coronavirus, the bigger challenge before the state government was to keep crowds at home, especially in big cities like Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad or Nashik, to insulate them from the increasing spread.
The state added four new patients on Thursday – two from Mumbai, one from Ulhasnagar (Thane) and one in Ahmednagar – taking the total to 49 positive cases.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray again appealed to the common people to stay at home, avoid unnecessary commute and exercise round-the-clock precautions, and also hinted he would not hesitate to shut down the suburban railways, metro, buses and other public transport which ferry around a crore souls in Mumbai daily.
Thackeray’s plea seemed to touch a chord and an estimated 1.50 million people chose to avoid commuting on Thursday, and the crowds appeared to be receding even on city and suburban roads and highways.
Though Mumbai did not wear a totally deserted look, there were visible changes in public habits with most places – usually crowded – closed.
Taking the cue, Mumbai’s famed dabbawalas have suspended their tiffin box services till March 31, according to their spokesperson Subhash Talekar.
Ahead of the crucial Friday prayers, Suhail Khandwani, Managing Trustee of both the Mahim Dargah and Haji Ali mausoleum in Worli, announced a closure of the two crowded places for the next few days, besides taking up complete sanitisation of the complexes within and outside.
Taking a severe battering since a week around the state, trade and commercial activities have decided to shut down for varying periods – ranging from 3 days to 12 days – in parts of Mumbai and other cities like Thane, Ulhasnagar, Kalyan-Dombivali, Ratnagiri, Pune.
The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) tightened the screws further after Municipal Commissioner Praveen Pardeshi ordered alternative days open for road-touching shops and establishments to reduce the crowds, which was implemented in different areas.
Bracing for more, Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur are expected to get over 40,000 passengers by different flights over the next 12 days from various affected countries needing quarantine.
However, with the Centre announcing a ban on all incoming international flights from March 22, the pressure will ease on the state health authorities.
The Western Railway, Central Railway, and Konkan Railway have totally cancelled over six dozen long-distance train services over the next fortnight due to low occupancy. The WR and CR also cancelled its airconditioned local train services for an indefinite period and replaced them with regular trains.
State transport buses were suspended in certain districts like Ratnagiri, Pune over the next few days to reduce crowds.
Elsewhere, in Pune, Ulhasnagar, Kalyan-Dombivali, thousands of shops, hotels, restaurants – barring essentials like pharmacies, bakeries, dairies and grocery shops – went on a voluntary shutdown for three days, as people grappled to lead a normal life.
As people gradually started staying indoors, the impact was felt by roadside stalls selling vegetables, fruits, fast foods, juices or ice-creams, hot and cold beverages, etc. leading to a fall in prices, causing dismay among the poor vendors.
In contrast, most online companies have reported a massive spurt in orders from customers indulging in shopping from home.
Worried by the piling losses, the Federation of Associations of Indian Tourism & Hospitality (FAITH) Chairman Nakul Anand on Thursday demanded a year-long moratorium and different types of urgent interventions by the Centre to prevent the travel, tourism, hoteliering and aviation industry from sinking to bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, Thackeray said that attendance in all government offices has been regulated to 50 percent, and urged the private sector to follow suit, while Pardeshi has warned of action against private companies where more than 50 percent staffers are found in offices.
The Pune Collector also issued orders restricting the presence of more than 5 employees in private offices, following complaints by IT industry employees that their managements allegedly flouted orders by forcing them to work in large numbers.
Health Minister Rajesh Tope reiterated that there is sufficient availability of testing labs for Covid-19 and more are being opened up in the next few days, besides enough stocks of masks, sanitizers, ventilators and other medical equipment.
Touring some medical and snacks centres like Haldiram in Nagpur for flouting government directives, Home Minister Anil Deshmukh warned pranksters of stringent action if they were found spreading misinformation of mischievous messages via social media.
Among the precautions noticed in Mumbai are visitors asked to sanitise or wash their hands before entering any building, housing complexes or private societies, steps to fumigate buildings and other measures to curb the virus spread.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: [email protected])