Maharashtra mulls lockdown, Delhi and Punjab announce curbs as COVID cases spike; Europe resumes using AstraZeneca jab
From ramping up vaccination capacity to imposing a night curfew, state governments are seeking to curb the looming 'second wave'
"I see lockdown as an option," said Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Friday as the state government sought to curb the surge in COVID-19 cases. One of the worst-hit states, Maharashtra on Thursday recorded its highest number of new cases since the pandemic broke out in 2020.
Friday's spike in cases was only marginally lower: A total of 25,681 new cases were recorded in Maharashtra on Friday, as opposed to 25,833 new cases on Thursday.
Thackeray, however, is hopeful that people will follow social distancing norms.
"I trust people of the state to cooperate (and follow the COVID-19 norms voluntarily) like the last time," he said.
Speaking to reporters in the Nandurbar district, he also appealed to people to set aside vaccine hesitancy and get inoculated "without fear". Thackeray made the remarks amid the state imposing fresh restrictions on theatres, auditoriums and private offices.
However, Maharashtra isn't the only state facing a grim COVID-19 situation. Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, and Gujarat are among the states that are also seeing a surge and fresh restrictions in line with precautionary protocol.
From ramping up vaccination capacity to imposing a night curfew, state governments are seeking to curb the looming "second wave".
The Delhi government announced that vaccination centres will operate till 9 pm starting 22 March, while Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh ordered the closure of all educational institutes from Saturday till 31 March.
Taking cognisance of the sudden surge in the covid cases, all Delhi Govt hospitals will hereby operate vaccination sites in their premises till atleast 9pm.
Adequate man power will be deployed to ensure the same.
I request Delhiites to follow proper protocols and stay safe! pic.twitter.com/Q1aodNML4J
— Satyendar Jain (@SatyendarJain) March 19, 2021
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 people in attendance. This will be enforced from Sunday, PTI reported.
Reports added that the Madhya Pradesh government has imposed a one-day lockdown in Indore, Bhopal, and Jabalpur cities.
On the global front, countries across Europe resumed vaccinations with the AstraZeneca shot (manufactured in India by the Serum Institute of India as Covishield) on Friday, as leaders sought to reassure their populations of its safety. The use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine was briefly suspended after doubts were cast on it.
France's prime minister Jean Castex rolled up his sleeve to get the shot and British prime minister Boris Johnson planned to, as did a handful of other senior politicians across the continent, where the inoculation drive has repeatedly stumbled and several countries are now re-imposing lockdowns as infections rise in many places.
On the national scale, India saw 2021's highest spike in new cases at 39,726 on Friday. This has been a trend over the past week, with each consecutive day surpassing the last 'highest' figure. However, Friday's spike was also the highest in 110 days, PTI reported.
Maharashtra govt announces curbs for drama theatres, auditoriums
Thackeray conceded that the COVID-19 situation has become grimmer based on Thursday's figures. However, he stressed that, unlike last year when there was nothing to fight the virus with, people now have the vaccines as a shield.
"The priority now is to ensure that everyone is vaccinated. People should come forward to take the vaccine," he said.
The Union government has assured that there would be no shortage of vaccines, he said. There have been a few instances where a person caught the infection after vaccination, but such cases are not "life-threatening", the chief minister said.
"Everyone should get vaccinated without fear," he added.
Thackeray's remarks come amid the state increasing its target of daily vaccinations to 3 lakh people, and fresh restrictions being imposed on theatres, auditoriums and private offices.
While drama theatres and auditoriums in the state have been asked to operate only at 50 percent of their capacity till 31 March, private offices, except those related to health and other essential services, will be allowed to function only at 50 percent of their capacity.
The state also announced stricter punishment for violators, including shutting down negligent theatres and auditoriums for a period until the COVID-19 pandemic stays notified as a disaster by the central government.
Similarly, private offices, except those related to health and other essential services, will be allowed to function only at 50 percent of their capacity, a government notification issued on Friday said.
In the 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.
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.
Delhi, Punjab revise timings for vaccination centres
Vaccination centres in Delhi will operate till 9 pm from 22 March, the Delhi government said. A copy of the order issued by the city government's health department was shared by Health Minister Satyendar Jain in a tweet on Friday.
"Taking cognisance of the sudden surge in COVID-19 cases, all Delhi Govt hospitals will hereby operate vaccination sites in their premises till at least 9 pm. Adequate man power will be deployed to ensure the same. I request Delhiites to follow proper protocols and stay safe!" he tweeted.
The decision was announced by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday.
Acknowledging that coronavirus cases in Delhi have been rising in the last few days, Kejriwal had announced that the capacity of daily inoculation in Delhi would be augmented from 30,000-40,000 to 1.25 lakh.
Delhi on Thursday recorded 607 new COVID-19 cases, the highest in over two-and-a-half months, while one more fatality pushed the death toll to 10,949, the state Health Department said.
Meanwhile, the Punjab government told all private and government hospitals to offer hassle-free vaccination services for at least eight hours daily till 31 March.
"There should be no requirement of a separate certificate if an eligible person aged 45 and above brings a medical record regarding co-morbidities," he directed.
The directions were given at a review meeting chaired by the chief minister, in which he took note of the low vaccination numbers in the state.
According to an official statement, he expressed concern that of 1,291 registered private facilities, 891 have reportedly not administered a single dose.
From a low of around 200 cases daily and deaths in single digits, Punjab has gone to around 2,000 cases per day and the deaths are also increasing, he noted.
"We have to be prepared for this second surge," said Amarinder, pointing out that the 1918 Spanish flu had four spikes. "We have to be prepared for a long battle," he warned.
Surge in cases alarming, make masks must at rallies, polling booths: Bengal doctors tell CEC
A joint platform of doctors in West Bengal on Friday wrote to the Election Commission, sounding an alarm over rising COVID-19 cases and the "complete disappearance" of safety protocols at political rallies in the poll-bound state.
The doctors have also flagged the non-availability of beds in COVID-19 hospitals as well as free ventilators in the state.
"The number of COVID-19 victims in West Bengal has been increasing significantly over the last seven days. Mutant strains have been found in the bodies of several patients, too.
"It is also to be noted that the number of tests being regularly conducted is much less than before," Dr Hiralal Konar and Dr Punyabrata Gun, representing the Joint Platform of Doctors, said in a letter to Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora.
"Several patients are being admitted in COVID-19 ICUs once again, and there is a shortage of beds as well as free ventilators... While it is not possible to conclude with certainty about the initiation of the second wave, this trend is quite alarming," the doctors said.
"Safety protocols have completely disappeared in the process of holding rallies and meetings of all political parties on the occasion of the upcoming elections in the state," they added.
COVID-19 caseload details
India saw 39,726 new coronavirus infections being reported in a day, the highest single-day rise recorded so far this year, taking the nationwide tally of cases to 1,15,14,331, according to Union Health Ministry data updated at 8 am on Friday.
The toll increased to 1,59,370 with 154 daily new fatalities, the data showed.
Registering an increase for the ninth day in a row, the total active caseload has reached 2,71,282, which now comprises 2.36 percent of the total infections, while the recovery rate has further dropped to 96.26 percent, the data stated.
According to ICMR, 23,13,70,546 samples have been tested up to 18 March with 10,57,383 samples being tested on Thursday.
The 154 new fatalities include 58 from Maharashtra, 32 from Punjab and 15 from Kerala.
A total of 1,59,370 deaths have been reported so far in the country including 53,138 from Maharashtra, 12,573 from Tamil Nadu, 12,415 from Karnataka, 10,949 from Delhi, 10,300 from West Bengal, 8,753 from Uttar Pradesh and 7,186 from Andhra Pradesh.
With inputs from agencies
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