Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray chose a Sunday to wake the ‘sleeping population’ out of its deep slumber. “Be on guard or the next corona wave will hit you and me like a Tsunami,” he said in a video message released on Sunday evening, which stoked fears of another lockdown in the state.
It isn’t that the CM was addressing the people of the state for the first time since COVID-19 stuck, but definitely, the sound of caution this time was grave and hinted at a possible second wave hitting Maharashtra — the worst-hit state in the country.
Interpreting Uddhav’s speech
Of the many things that Thackeray spoke about during his 20-minute Sunday evening address was that the “vaccine has not arrived yet” and, as and when it arrives, there isn’t a well-laid mechanism in place today to take the doses to each and every citizen in the shortest possible time. Thackeray’s lack of optimism could be fueled by World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ recent statement that “a vaccine would not by itself stop the coronavirus pandemic”. So, he wants people to maintain social distancing and follow all the protocols necessary to avoid a second or probably third wave lest they test the state’s fragile health machinery once again.
Besides, the opening up of markets for festivities ahead of Dussehra and Diwali clearly meant that Maharashtra has to be prepared for the worst (may be worse than what it experienced in June and later in September). The CM, in his Sunday address, sounded miffed with people of his state for crowding public places, especially the markets.
A few days back, the fine for not wearing masks was increased from ₹200 per person to ₹ 500, with the Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar hinting last month that it could be increased to ₹1,000 if violators do not fall in line. The Mumbai police and the local corporation have started a special and stricter drive against those not wearing masks from Monday (November 23). The state transport ministry has hinted it will strengthen the drive not just in cities, but take it to district places and smaller towns as well. The Print reported that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had penalised about 1.25 lakh people caught without wearing masks and collected close to ₹3 crore in penalties in the last 15 days of October.
After an open spat with Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari in October on temples continuing to remain closed in the state, Thackeray was under pressure to declare a date when religious places will open for devotees. “People have no business telling me when to open this or that. If cases spike again, fingers will be raised at me, not them,” Thackeray said during his speech, making an oblique reference to the Governor’s earlier sarcasm-filled letter that asked “had the CM turned secular?”
Thackeray had declared Padwa (the third day of Diwali) as the day to open religious places and had fulfilled his promise. The Ashadi Ekadashi wari – the most popular annual religious congregation that walks to the holy town of Pandharpur in June – was successfully cancelled this time. However, the Kartiki Ekadashi wari, which starts on November 25 and is equally popular with devotees, is a matter of worry for the Maharashtra government, which is fighting hard to stop people from crowding.
A health department official said, “The fear of the next wave of Covid is real in Maharashtra, considering how things have spiraled out of control – first in Kerala and then in Delhi – after festivals. Maharashtra has seen the worst in the last few months and the government does not want to take any chance. The health machinery is on alert.”
The CM too, during his speech, urged people not to test the efficiency of the state’s health machinery, which continues to remain under pressure owing to high caseload as against other states.
Schools have been opened across the state (except Mumbai) for higher classes from today (November 23). This is a major cause of worry for the state since several states like Haryana and Andhra, which opened schools first, had to shut them down later when cases spiked. Gujarat too has reversed its decision to reopen schools, prompting Mumbai to follow suit. On Friday, Mumbai had reported 1,131 cases, which is way less than Delhi’s consistent count of 6000+ cases every day. However, BMC health officials do not want to take chances. Hence they recommended keeping Mumbai schools closed till December 31.
Why second wave in Maharashtra is a possibility?
As the winter sets in, temperature will drop further, making the conditions conducive for the coronavirus to spread. Besides, it is business as usual for most as they go around socialising, shopping etc which will increase the probability of infection in a big way.
State Covid-19 Surveillance Officer Dr Pradeep Awate said a similar trend has been observed in the US which is experiencing a third wave right now and Europe is in the middle of a second wave.
Closer home, sudden spike in cases in Delhi has demonstrated that there is no time to relax and rest assured that nothing would go wrong. Maharashtra, with still the highest number of total cases in India, cannot afford to be complacent.
Another lockdown in the offing?
Rumours are rife that Mumbai, if not Maharashtra, will be under lockdown once again very soon. Although the Chief Minister very clearly said in his Sunday speech that he is not in favour of another lockdown, he strongly advocates people follow self-restraint and Covid protocol (maintain distance, wash hands and wear a mask). In a worst-case scenario, Mumbai may go the Ahmedabad way, where authorities have imposed a night curfew (9 pm to 6 am) for 57 hours, a state health department official said.
On his part, state health minister Rajesh Tope has warned that if “the next corona wave gains ground in Maharashtra, then it will cost all of us dearly”.