Maharashtra eases lockdown norms as festive season arrivesAugust 12, 2020
Contributing around one-third of the total coronavirus-afflicted population in India, Maharashtra has been in the spotlight ever since the virus arrived in India.
As of end-July, Maharashtra has crossed the 4-lakh mark for patients affected with coronavirus disease and seen close to 15,000 deaths, while number of recoveries are around 1.5 lakh.
Confident of the measures taken to contain the virus, the government is now lifting the strict rules previously administered and is trying to get economic activities back on track.
The state has so far recorded the highest number of COVID-19 cases in India and continues to see higher and higher additions every day. Dr Shivkumar Utture, President, Maharashtra Medical Council calls the situation in Maharashtra ‘worrying’. “Till date, the maximum cases were seen in the city of Mumbai. Over a period of time, Mumbai has shown a flattening of the curve, and even better results as far as the total number of deaths is concerned, but the peripheral regions of Mumbai, what we call MMR [the Mumbai Metropolitan Region], and other parts of Maharashtra are showing an increase in the number of cases. I would say that we have not got a grip on this disease as far as Maharashtra is concerned. We need to do much more than what we are doing at present so that we can contain this disease.”
As of July 29, As of end-July, Pune had overtaken Mumbai as the largest contributor of fresh cases to the state’s tally. Mumbai’s total case count was 1.1 lakh cases while its death toll was around 6,200.
Due to a series of stringent measures and interventions, the state has successfully curbed the spread of the virus. Nevertheless, hospitals, morgues, cemeteries or crematoria face a tough time while dealing with the COVID-19 rush.
“People will have to be more vigilant and follow coronavirus norms. Not doing so can worsen the situation as we are probably in the community transmission phase. The government is surely doing its bit for the safety of people. But now people will have to ensure their own safety by staying home, staying safe,” said Dr Jeenam Shah, Consultant Interventional Pulmonologist, Wockhardt Hospital Mumbai Central.
Awareness still low?
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced that lockdown norms will be further relaxed by August 1. “The Maharashtra government allowed the shops and establishments dealing with non-essential commodities to open eyeing at the revenue loss. Since there are relaxations now, there will be violations of lockdown norms in major cities like Mumbai, Thane, and Pune that account for most of the coronavirus cases,” pointed out Dr Jeenam Shah.
Dr Shivkumar Utture said people are not following the norms as strictly as required, whether it is Mumbai, Pimpri- Chinchwad,Kolhapur or Satara.
“We are still seeing a lot of crowds near the playgrounds and markets, where chances of the disease spreading are extremely high.”
“A lot of people are also seen without masks, and this may cause a big problem in the future when there is a relaxation in the lockdown. A second wave may come, and so we need to educate the public on wearing the mask, maintaining social distancing, washing hands with soap and water or with a sanitiser. We have to create awareness among the public that we have to live with this disease for six months at least and they have to take care of their own health and the health of the people around them.”
In addition to Mumbai, neighbouring areas like Thane, Dombivli, Ulhasnagar and regions like Navi Mumbai are also seeing an increase in the number of cases. “Unfortunately what has happened is as Mumbai showed an exponential rise in the number of cases initially, the focus of the government and corporations has been on this city. They ramped up facilities for quarantining and increased in-house facilities, due to which we could contain this disease to a great extent. However, the authorities of the peripheral parts of Mumbai, like Thane, Bhiwandi, Dombivli and such regions did nothing to increase facilities over the past three months,” Utture said.
“They did not anticipate that just like Mumbai, these regions would also be hit by the disease and the number of cases would increase. Today we find that they are short on the number of beds that are available for patients. Not only that, facilities for oxygen therapy or ventilators are also very much on the lower side. So, the local population there is definitely suffering and I hope, facilities will be ramped up in these peripheral regions also, because a lot of the workforce is staying in these regions. Once the lockdown is relaxed and institutions and companies start working normally, this workforce is again going to move from the peripheral regions into the main city and this might bring back the same problem to the city. We may start seeing the second wave. So what we require is to ramp up our facilities so that we can take care of these patients locally, with in-house in-patient facilities where we can give them full treatment at an early stage. Oxygen therapy, if given in early stages, can definitely help these patients and we can avoid sending these patients for ventilator therapy in the future. Once you go on a ventilator, the percentage of mortality increases.”
Popular Involvement crucial
In addition to the increase in the number of cases in the neighbourhood of Mumbai, Maharashtra is set to face heavy rains in the upcoming months and with festivals around the corner, the situation might get worse.
“There are two major problems that we will be facing,” says Dr Utture. “One is the monsoon season which brings with it every year the problems of vector-borne diseases where it may mimic the signs and symptoms of the COVID. It would be difficult clinically to differentiate between a vector-borne fever and the fever of COVID. Hence, we have to increase the number of testing because all these patients will have to be tested to rule out COVID.
“The second problem is that we are entering the festival season. As you know, in India, there is always a large gathering of people who come together to perform rituals and celebrate these festivals. One of the biggest festivals is Ganesh Chaturthi, but I think better sense has prevailed and restrictions have been put on a majority of public Ganpati pandals and some have already declared that they would not be celebrating the festival like they do every year,” he added.
Dr AM Deshmukh, President of Microbiologists Society of India and former Professor & Head of Dept. of Microbiology at Aurangabad-based Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, calls the present situation “very serious” and warns it would get even more serious in the near future.
“A relaxation in the lockdown will increase corona cases in Maharashtra, but a management strategy without lockdown is also necessary. As festivals are coming in Maharashtra, restrictions must be implemented and gatherings must be avoided.”