By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, March 23 (IANS) Maharashtra on Monday became the first state in India to impose ‘total lockdown’ against Covid-19 as the coronavirus toll in the state reached three, here on Monday. The number of cases has reached 97, with two being critical.
Making the announcement, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said the government was compelled to invoke the ‘sancharbandi’ (curfew) measure as all appeals to the masses to remain indoors fell on deaf ears.
“We are enforcing ‘sancharbandi’ (curfew) for the entire state from midnight tonight (monday). We have reached a critical stage in the ‘war against virus’, but the next few days are extremely crucial,” Thackeray said.
According to legal experts, the move tantamounts to a more stringent ‘lockdown’, but since certain concessions allowed it’s a watered-down version of ‘sancharbandi’ (curfew) which only the district magistrates can impose.
The move came a day after Thackeray declared a near-total state lockdown till March 31, and also implemented prohibitory orders at nagar panchayats to combat Covid-19, with Maharashtra notching the second highest spread in India.
“If we don’t take tough steps now, we may face a situation similar to other countries. Our repeated appeals seem to have had no impact. So we are forced to implement a ‘sancharbandi’,” Thackeray said.
Interestingly, the government’s move came hours after the Microbiologists Society India (MSI) head A.M. Deshmukh warned of India possibly hurtling towards a catastrophe facing Italy, Iran if crowds were not controlled by imposing total ‘janata curfew’ for 14 days, highlighted by IANS today.
Thackeray said to insulate a few districts, which had escaped the coronavirus wrath, there would be complete ban on inter-district travel, in the public interest.
Since midnight (March 22-23), the state in under a near-total lockdown with even the Mumbai suburban trains stopped as part of the Railway Ministry’s directive on Sunday, besides all public transport closed in the state.
Now, extending the ban to even private vehicles, Thackeray said the bare minimum movement would be permitted for only emergencies or essential services.
“For instance, in private vehicles only the driver and one-two persons will be allowed and in autorickshaw, driver plus one, but that too only for emergencies. No entry to any temple, mosque, church or any religious place will be permitted except for the pujari, maulvi or priest,” Thackeray said.
He reiterated his daily plea to the people not to take the issue lightly. “Please do not play with your health, others’ health, do not step out unless it’s absolutely necessary”.
Additionally, the prohibitory orders already clamped since Sunday would be enforced strictly but Thackeray assured that all essentials like food, vegetables, milk, pharmacies, bakeries would function normally.
Earlier today, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Home Minister Anil Deshmukh issued statements hinting at the possibility of stern steps like a curfew if people didn’t heed government warnings.
Officials said the decision was prompted after the number of Covid-19 positive cases zoomed from 53 to 97 in barely 72 hours, besides claiming two persons, including a Philippines national in the past 48 hours in Mumbai, rattling the authorities.
Worse, all three deaths have so far occurred in Mumbai with a population of around 17 million, and a majority of the positive cases are centred in the dense Mumbai-Pune belt accounting for nearly two-thirds of the infected persons, and many are now turning out to be ‘first contact’ cases without any history of foreign travel.
To cope up with the growing load, Health Minister Rajesh Tope said in the next four days, all government medical colleges in the state would be equipped with testing facilities.