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Maharashtra, Punjab Tighten Covid-19 Curbs; India Records Biggest Surge in Cases in 4 Months

A medic collects a swab sample of a man from a swab testing cabin. (PTI Photo)

A medic collects a swab sample of a man from a swab testing cabin. (PTI Photo)

Harsh Vardhan said India has vaccinated 3.5 to 4 crore people so far and side effects have been recorded at 0.000432 per cent.

Maharashtra and Punjab, which are recording a surge in new COVID-19 cases, tightened curbs on Friday and the chief minister of the western state said lockdown is an option, as India added close to 40,000 cases in the biggest daily increase in nearly four months. Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, meanwhile, told Parliament that the COVID-19 vaccination drive will be extended in the coming days, and asserted there should not be any misconceptions about the two Indian vaccines being administered inthe country. He also said it is not necessary, scientifically, to administer the vaccine to each and every person in the country.

The Maharashtra government issued a notification asking drama halls/auditoriums to operate only at 50 per cent of their capacity till March 31, and warned they will have to remain closed for a period until the pandemic stays notified as a disaster by the Centre if there is any violation. Private offices, except those related to health and other essential services, have been asked to function only at 50 per cent of their capacity, it said.

A day after Maharashtra witnessed the highest one-day spike of 25,833 COVID-19 cases, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said lockdown is an option but he trusts people to follow the norms on their own. On Friday, the state recorded 25,681 cases, a health official said, adding Mumbai reported the highest spike of 3,062 new infections. Talking to reporters in Nandurbar, Thackeray also appealed to people to get vaccinated against the virus without fear.

The chief minister acknowledged that the COVID-19 situation has become grimmer as the number of new cases on Thursday crossed the earlier highest rise which was recorded in September. “I see lockdown as an option going ahead. But I trust people of the state to cooperate (and follow the COVID-19 norms voluntarily) like the last time.” After a review meeting, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh ordered a slew of restrictions beginning Saturday which included closing of all educational institutions till the month-end and curbs on cinema and mall capacities.

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States likeMaharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat and Chhattisgarhare reporting a surge in the daily COVID-19 cases, accounting for over 80 per cent of the new infections, the Union Health Ministry said. Maharashtra continues to report the highest daily new cases at 25,833 which is 65 per cent of daily cases. It is followed by Punjab with 2,369 while Kerala reported 1,899 new cases, the ministry said in its morning update. The new cases in Punjab rose by 2,490 on Friday, according to a state medical bulletin.

According to the ministry data updated on Friday. India reported 39,726 new coronavirus infections in a day, the highest single-day rise recorded so far this year, taking the nationwide COVID-19 tally to 1,15,14,331. The daily rise was the highest recorded in 110 days, while the death toll increased to 1,59,370 with 154 daily new fatalities, the data updated at 8 am showed. As many as 41,810 new infections were registered during a 24-hour period on November 29 last.

Registering an increase for the ninth day in a row, the total active caseload has reached 2,71,282, which now comprises 2.36 per cent of the total infections, while the recovery rate has further dropped to 96.26 per cent, the data stated. The number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 1,10,83,679, while the case fatality rate has further to 1.38 per cent, it said.

Eight states including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka and Haryanaare showing an upward trajectory in daily new cases. The notification issued by the Maharashtra government said that in case of government and semi-government offices, the head of the office will take a decision regarding the staff attendance and ensure adherence to COVID-19 protocols.

As per the notification, drama halls and auditoriums will not be used for religious, political, cultural and social gatherings. On March 15, the state government had notified that cinema halls, hotels, restaurants and offices, except those related to health and essential services, will function at 50 per cent of their capacity.

But the Friday’s order has included drama halls and auditoriums as well. The order, however, allowed the manufacturing sector to function at full capacity, but advised that the workforce be reduced to ensure adequate social distancing on the production floor.

For the purpose of maintaining social distancing, manufacturing units may be allowed to increase working shifts as approved by local authorities. to check COVID surge. In the 11 worst-hit districts in Punjab, a complete ban has been ordered on all social gatherings, except for funerals and weddings, which will be allowed with only 20 persons in attendance. This will be enforced from Sunday.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh appealed to people to keep social activity at their homes to the bare minimum for the next two weeks to break the transmission chain, according to an official statement released in Chandigarh. Not more than 10 visitors should be entertained in homes, he urged chairing a meeting of the COVID task force.

“All educational institutions, other than medical and nursing colleges, will remain closed till March 31,” the official statement said. The chief minister also ordered compulsory wearing of face mask, directing police and the health authorities to take all those found in public areas without it to the nearest testing facility to ensure they are not asymptomatic cases.

The situation will be reviewed after two weeks, he said. Dr K K Talwar, who heads the state government’s expert team on coronavirus, told the chief minister that the surge in cases appeared to be the result of the opening of schools and colleges, with young asymptomatic people appearing to be spreading the virus.

During the Question Hour in Lok Sabha, Vardhan said India has vaccinated 3.5 to 4 crore people so far and side effects of the vaccines have been recorded at 0.000432 per cent. “Every vaccine doesn’t require universal immunisation and all these priority groups whom we are vaccinating today like healthcare staff first and then senior citizens and people aged between 45 and 59 years, it will be extended in the coming days all these are based on experts’ opinion.

“Not only Indian experts, but we have also consulted WHO guidelines regarding priority groups.” Serum Institute’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin have been currently approved for restricted emergency use in India. Replying to a question by NCP MP Supriya Sule on whether the government is aiming at universal immunisation of COVID-19 vaccine, Vardhan said it is not scientifically necessary to administer the vaccine to each and every person in the country.

“Not each and every person in the world will be vaccinated. The prioritisation process is a dynamic process. “The behaviour of the virus is also dynamic. All things are based on scientific facts, scrutiny and vision of the overall scientific and health community,” he said.

first published:March 19, 2021, 07:22 IST