As the state with India’s highest count of Covid-19 cases and deaths, it is easy to see why Maharashtra does not want to take any chances against the novel coronavirus. After drawing up a five-level guideline for easing restrictions, authorities have now said that the first two levels, which allowed the greatest ease of movement, will not be applicable anywhere in the state. That’s because there are fears of a third wave on its way even as cases from the second wave, which is believed to have started with Maharashtra, are on a decline. The fear is
that premature easing of restrictions may again send cases soaring amid the emergence of the new Delta-plus variant.
What Base Restrictions Set At Level 3 Means?
In early June, the state government had issued a detailed plan for the lifting of restrictions as cases in the second wave declined. A combination of test positivity rate (that is, the number of positive results for every 100 Covid-19 tests) and hospital bed occupancy provides the criteria under which different jurisdictions in the state can determine the level of their lockdown, Level 1 being the most relaxed and Level 5 the strictest.
But Levels 1 and 2 are now no longer applicable for any district, town or city in Maharashtra. According to officials, the emergence of Delta-plus cases and visible laxity in adherence to minimum levels of distancing and other precautions prompted the state government to bump up the default setting for curbs to Level 3.
In the guidelines dated June 4, jurisdictions reporting a test positivity rate of between 5 per cent and 10 per cent, or those where hospitals saw more than 40 per cent occupancy in oxygen beds, qualified for Level-3 curbs.
But now, regardless of the test positivity rate and oxygen bed occupancy, all areas in the state will be at Level 3 of restrictions.
Reports said that, Maharashtra has notified municipal bodies and districts as independent administrative units that are authorised to decide on the level of restrictions to be put in place within their jurisdictions.
What Are The Restrictions Like In Levels 1 And 2?
Level 1 was to have been available for a test positivity rate of below 5 per cent and oxygen bed occupancy of under 25 per cent. For Level 2, the positivity threshold was the same as Level 1, but the oxygen bed occupancy should have ranged between 25 and 40 per cent.
Level 1 authorised regular movement and activity across all sectors. In fact, except for the requirement of some supervision of travel, including inter-district movement, Level 1 more or less envisaged a total rollback of restrictions. So, shops, offices, malls, parks, gyms, salons, etc. could all function normally in terms of timing and staff and customer presence. However, Level 1 did not include any guidelines on school and college reopening.
Level 2 restrictions were envisaged to be substantially stricter than Level 1. Although most locations that were allowed to function under Level 1 easing would have been covered by Level 2, officials were mandated to “minimise
attendance in closed spaces and public places and minimise group movements". Thus, most places allowed to open would have been required to only have 50 per cent capacity, including spas, malls, restaurants, theatres,
etc. However, both government and private offices would have been allowed to reopen with 100 per cent staff presence.
What Are The Restrictions Like Under Level 3?
Level 3 is from where curfew-like restrictions are to be in place. So, no movement or travel is allowed after 5 PM and shops have to shut at 4 PM. Malls and cinema halls, however, are to remain closed. Parks and public spaces
can open only from 5 AM to 9 AM while only outdoor sports is to be allowed between 5 AM to 9 AM and 6 PM to 9 PM.
Offices would be allowed to stay open only till 4 PM with a 50 per cent ceiling on staff attendance. The movement of local trains is only for people in exempted categories of essential workers while public buses can only operate to full seating level with no standing passengers allowed.
Restaurants are allowed to stay open at 50 per cent capacity till 4 PM and do takeaways thereafter. Marriages and funerals are allowed to have only 50 and 20 people, respectively, in attendance.
With the Level 3 position now default, officials said that the restrictions would continue till the relevant authorities review their applicability in terms of the Covid-19 situation. But the guidelines for easing the curbs have also been tightened.
To begin with, decline in cases and positivity rate will have to be recorded for two weeks — and not seven days, as earlier — before a switch to a lower restriction level is allowed. Further, the test positivity ratio will only take into account the more accurate RT-PCR tests and not rapid antigen tests amid the view that districts were doing large-scale antigen testing to bring down their positivity rate. Further, all districts have been asked to ensure 70 per cent vaccination coverage among their eligible population.
Any upward revision of restrictions, to either Level 4 or 5, will be done by district authorities in terms of their assessment of the situation. According to reports, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said the city had a test positivity rate of 4 per cent and oxygen bed occupancy of 23 per cent in the last two weeks. Although that put Mumbai within the criteria for Level 1 restrictions, authorities had decided to keep the city at Level 3 in view of cases attributed to the Delta-plus variant being identified in the state.
Which Are The Districts Where Delta-plus Cases Have Been Identified?
From more than 60,000 cases a day (seven-day rolling average) in April during the surging second wave, Maharashtra is now adding less than 10,000 fresh cases daily. But experts have warned that the Delta-plus variant is more adept at spreading between people and could also be associated with reduced effect of neutralising antibodies.
According to the latest data from the Centre, Maharashtra has reported the country’s largest count of cases of the Delta-plus variant with more than 20 identified so far from genomic sequencing. In Maharashtra, the two districts where the highest number of Delta-plus cases have been identified so far are Ratnagiri and Jagaon. The first death reported in the state from the Delta-plus infection — an 80-year-old woman with co-morbidities — was in Ratnagiri. Mumbai, Palghar, Thane and Sindhudurg districts, too, have Seen Delta-plus cases.