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Opinion | Second wave of pandemic has struck Maharashtra, but lockdown is not the answer

For the first time in the last 111 days, the daily number of Covid-19 cases in India crossed 40,000 to reach 40,944.

Rajat Sharma Rajat Sharma @RajatSharmaLive
New Delhi Published on: March 20, 2021 10:45 IST
Opinion | Second wave of pandemic has struck Maharashtra, but lockdown is not the answer
Image Source : INDIA TV

Opinion | Second wave of pandemic has struck Maharashtra, but lockdown is not the answer

This is worrying news for all. For the first time in the last 111 days, the daily number of Covid-19 cases in India crossed 40,000 to reach 40,944. The number of active cases also increased by 19,000, the biggest increase since last September. The surge in Covid cases has been consistent since the last nine days, as the pandemic continues to spread across 17 states, with Maharashtra leading. The number of active cases jumped to 2.9 lakh on Friday, with more than 54,000 cases in the last three days.

The worst situation is in Maharashtra which reported 25,681 fresh Covid cases. The question that is being asked is: Has the second wave of the pandemic struck India?

I can now confirm that the second wave has begun in Maharashtra, but the same cannot be said about other states. More than two-third of the new cases are from Maharashtra, which is witnessing an explosion in the number of cases from different cities and even in districts. If the red alert is not heeded to, the state may face a critical situation that arose in September last year, says Shekhar C. Mande, the director-general of CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research).

CSIR is keeping a constant watch on the pattern of epidemic that is evolving, on the type of strains of the virus that have appeared, and it advises the government on taking remedial steps. Mande told India TV on Friday that the “second wave” of the epidemic has indeed come in Maharashtra. He added that the second wave is yet to arrive in other parts of India, and Covid-appropriate behaviour is now a must for all till the time the pandemic is not over.

From where did the second wave come in Maharashtra? There are at least 15 districts where the situation has worsened compared to last year. The virus is spreading fast in these districts. Let me give an example to illustrate. Last year, when the pandemic was at its peak, out of more than 90,000 fresh cases reportedly daily across India, Maharashtra accounted for only 24,000. On September 1 last year, the highest number of fresh cases recorded in Maharashtra was nearly 25,000, but on Friday the number was about to touch 26,000. Earlier one out of five Covid patients in India was from Maharashtra, but now, two out of three Covid patients are from this western state.

The situation in Mumbai, Pune, and Nagpur is alarming. Nearly 6,000 new cases were reported in the last two days from Mumbai. On Thursday, the number was more than 2,800, and on Friday it was more than 3,000.

The question: Why is the virus moving at such a speed in Maharashtra? The answer is simple: People have simply stopped fearing the pandemic, they have stopped wearing masks while walking on streets, and moving with the crowds. This is the reason why Asia’s biggest slum in Mumbai, Dharavi, which had set an example before the world by successfully tackling Covid, is now again a hotspot. More than 30 new cases were detected recently, and yet people are moving around without masks in markets.

I think, it will not be proper to blame people only. The accountability lies with local and state authorities, which should have strictly enforced Covid regulations in time. The Maharashtra government did not take decisions to enforce regulations, including lockdown, in time and the results are there for all to see. Presently, only ad hoc and knee-jerk decisions are being taken, like imposing weekend lockdowns in some places, night curfew in some towns, and fining people who move around without masks. These decisions, taken belatedly, are not yielding the right results.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Friday night, we showed how people were moving around without masks in the crowded Dadar market of Mumbai. Many of them had kept masks inside their pockets, and, on seeing our camera, they quickly put them on. The overall attitude of pedestrians towards the pandemic was that of nonchalance. Due to the epidemic, the BMC has decided to shift the flower market from Dadar, and the vegetable ‘mandi’ is being shifted to BKC and Somaiya grounds. BMC has recommended imposition of night curfew for Mumbai city.

The attitude of BMC reminds one of the proverb, ‘locking the stable after the horses have bolted’. They could have shifted the markets earlier. Already, the shopkeepers and traders in Dadar are protesting this move. Their argument is that, after facing economic turmoil last year, they had barely resumed their business, but are now being asked to move.

India TV reporter posed this question to Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar. She said, “when there is a question of choosing between life and jobs, you have to choose life first. First save your life, business can prosper later. If people do not follow rules, the government will apply regulations strictly.” The Mumbai Mayor is surely playing a pro-active role, but she could have done this earlier. Already, drones are being used to keep a watch on crowds in markets and streets.

In Pune, the daily surge in new cases is now more than 5,000. In Nashik, Nanded, Aurangabad, Amravati, Akola, Nandurbar and Jalgaon districts, the virus is spreading fast.

The situation is worse in Nagpur, where 18,000 new cases were reported in the last one week. Out of these, 10,000 cases were reported in the last three days. On Friday, more than 3,000 new cases were reported. This, in a city, where lockdown is already in force, and markets and business establishments are closed, except essential services. Drones are being used to keep watch on people who loiter in streets during lockdown and  on shopkeepers, who open their shops on the sly.

Many of the patients in Nagpur were asymptomatic but were found Covid positive after tests. Since the numbers had not surged in the beginning, those who were advised home quarantine, moved outside their homes nonchalantly, spreading the virus among crowds. They became the super spreaders. Now that the authorities have woken up from their slumber, large stickers are being pasted outside homes where Covid patients are in home isolation. Those violating home quarantine rules may have to pay Rs 5,000 as fine.

People are yet to realize the enormity of the danger. There is a video from Mumbai’s Charkop locality, where a woman thrashed a BMC lady marshal, Ashwini Chauhan, when she objected to her moving without a mask, and asked her to pay Rs 200 fine. The woman marshal has filed an FIR with police. Similar cases have been reported from some other places.

It is not a coincidence that Maharashtra registered the highest number of cases, when the pandemic struck India last year. And now, it is witnessing a ‘second wave’, while in other states, the situation is not so alarming. The situation in Maharashtra has worsened because of negligence on part of both the state government and the people.

The state government could have attacked and enforced regulations in time, and the people, on their part, could have followed the regimen of social distancing, wearing of masks, and frequent washing of hands. The situation worsened in the last three to four months. It seems that a sense of fatigue set in after people became fed up of wearing masks constantly. People stopped fearing the pandemic as life returned to normal. In my view, this seems to be the only reason why the virus spread so far across as many as 15 districts of Maharashtra within a span of three months.

The other reason, I assume, is because of political instability caused by a coalition government being run by three political parties, with no leader from one party listening to the other. Each party is siding with its own set of ministers, and the ministers are busy pulling one another’s legs. Politcians in Maharashtra had to face so many problems during the last year and they had little time to spend on the nitty-gritty of tackling a lethal pandemic.

Now that the situation is going out of hand, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray is threatening a state wide complete lockdown if people refused to follow regulations. Thackeray is trying to scare people, but, I do not think, imposition of a lockdown is the answer to the current problem.

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