Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Thursday announced that shops selling essential supplies and medical stores can operate 24×7, a move to reduce the crowding around these places that goes against the purpose of the 21-day nationwide lockdown to arrest the spread of the coronavirus. Thursday was the second day of the lockdown.
As Thackeray and his colleagues held marathon meetings to take stock of the situation, eight more people — three from Sangli, one each from Mumbai, Sindhudurg, Nagpur, Kolhapur and Pune — tested positive for the coronavirus, taking the total number of infected people in the state to 130. Two 65-year-old women, who were diagnosed with the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), died between Tuesday and Thursday, taking the death toll in the state and Mumbai to five.
While the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said there were nine new cases in Mumbai on Thursday, the state’s figures had not yet accounted for eight cases in its break-up.
Government officials said the move to keep shops selling essential commodities open round-the-clock came after a series of meetings held by Thackeray, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and chief secretary Ajoy Mehta. Besides pressing for effective treatment, availability of healthcare infrastructure, the state government also emphasised on the need for essential commodities to be made available to people.
Shop owners will have to adhere to social-distancing measures, officials said. Several shops in Mumbai and other parts of the state have painted boxes/circles at a distance of three feet for customers.
“All shops selling essential commodities, groceries and medicines are allowed to operate 24×7. It is mandatory for them to fully adhere to social distancing measures, enforce gaps with marking & ensure sanitation and cleanliness,” the chief minister’s office tweeted after the meeting.
A Mantralaya official, who was present in the meeting, said, “Groceries and medical stores can be open 24×7 by choice. The decision will reduce the crowds and queues outside such shops.” However, grocers have complained that the do not have adequate stocks to keep their establishments running 24×7.
Many medical shops said that their stocks are not replenished. “We do not mind keeping our shops open till midnight or even longer, but we do not have stock. The distributors are not supplying. Biscuits, any ready-to-eat things like noodles, salt, cleaning agents, etc. are not available. People have dal, rice, and wheat flour stocked in most houses,” said a grocery shop owner, Ratilal Devshi.
Ketan Rambhiya, co-owner of Nutan Dal Mill in Goregaon, said the government should have instead kept limited time for keeping shops open. “We have no idea of such a decision yet. Besides, people are just stepping out in the name of buying. Distributors and agents have not supplied stock to shops like ours. What do we do keeping our shops open?
The state government has also directed local authorities and civic bodies to look into the possibilities of doorstep services of essential commodities like grocery, vegetables and medicines. The district administrations and police authorities were strictly directed to not obstruct trucks and lorries carrying essential commodities. “Most of the goods vehicles carry essential commodities. All such vehicles will have easy passage in the state and such directives have been given to the police authorities. The petrol and diesel supply required for such vehicles and tractors used for agricultural activities will be made available without any hassle,” an official from Mantralaya said after the review meeting convened by the deputy chief minister.
State health minister Rajesh Tope said that as part of the preparations to combat coronavirus, the government has set up isolation wards in all district hospitals and government medical colleges.
After the Indian Council Of Medical Research (ICMR) also gave its nod to eight private laboratories in the state for testing, the total capacity of the sample tests in the state has gone up to 2,000 tests per day.
Among the three new positive cases reported on Thursday, one is from Sindhudurg, who had travelled with a patient in train a few days ago. The Nagpur patient had travelled to Delhi recently. A 65-year-old woman from Govandi who had been admitted to hospitals in Navi Mumbai died on March 24 at NMMC hospital in Vashi.
Test results conducted after her death confirmed that she had Covid-19 on Thursday.
The woman had earlier been admitted to Tandon hospital in Chembur on Tuesday. She was later shifted to Dr DY Patil hospital in Nerul, which referred her to NMMC hospital in Vashi.
According to NMMC commissioner Annasaheb Misal, “All requisite precautions had been taken. Her sample was taken and sent immediately to Kasturba hospital.” He added, “The patient was in hospital for only four hours.”
Another 65-year-old woman, who had tested positive for coronavirus, died on Thursday evening.
“The patient was suffering from diabetes and hypertension and was admitted to Kasturba hospital on March 23 for breathlessness,” said a health official from BMC.
Sharad Ughade, assistant municipal commissioner, G-South Ward, said the woman who died on Thursday evening used to stay in Jambhlipada slum, Kalina, where a 37-year-old had tested positive for coronavirus “Members of her family have been tested and we have started tracking others who were in close proximity with the patient in the past week or so,” he said.
A total of 269 new patients were admitted in various facilities across the state on Thursday, taking the number of patients admitted since January 18 to 3,243. Of the patients admitted to state-run and private hospitals after they complained of fever, cough, cold, samples of 2,750 tested negative for the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, to ensure the smooth supply of essential commodities, the state government has warned people to not step out of their homes without valid reasons and crowd outside the shops. Ajit Pawar said, “Police are being beaten up while on duty, people are found travelling in milk tanks illegally… such incidents are denting our fight against the coronavirus. People need to adhere to the lockdown and the restrictions imposed under it. The US government had to call in the Army for the implementation of the lockdown. It is the responsibility of the people to avoid any such extreme step in Maharashtra.”
In his review meeting on Thursday evening, Thackeray also directed the state machinery to ensure that the package announced by Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman gets fully utilised in the state. The state administration has been directed to make sure that the schemes announced under the ₹1.70-lakh crore package reach beneficiaries in the state.
‘Thane patients had no travel history’
Two men with no travel history have tested positive for Sars-CoV-2 in Thane and Kalwa in the past two days, according to the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC). Both of them are admitted to private hospitals and are contact cases.
Sandeep Malvi, deputy municipal commissioner of TMC, said, “A 58-year-old Thane resident, an employee of a private hospital, had fever since last week. He got admitted to the hospital on March 20 and tested positive yesterday. He must have contracted the virus in the hospital, as he has no travel history. We have sent three members of his family to Kasturba Hospital for testing.”
In the second case, a 39-year-old man from Parsik Nagar in Kalwa, an IT employee, tested positive on March 24.
An officer from TMC’s health department said, “He does not have travel history, but he had come in contact with US delegates who had visited his office for a meeting last week. He tried to hide his symptoms and got tested in a private lab. We have sealed that lab. He got admitted to a private hospital in Mulund and his condition is stable.”
The TMC, however, claimed that apart from his family, he has not revealed the number of people he came in contact with in the past few days. The corporation has sent nine of his family members to Kasturba Hospital for the test.
Till March 26, the TMC had screened 1,676 people, of which 878 had a travel history and 798 were in contact with those with travel history or positive
Malvi added, “Of these, 1,633 were recommended home quarantine, while 40 persons were send to K asturba
Hospital. Thirty of them have tested negative and have been discharged. One person has tested positive, while the reports of nine are awaited.”
(with inputs from Megha Pol, G Mohiuddin Jeddy)