Coronavirus News Update: Maharashtra surpasses 2020 peak with 25,833 fresh cases; Kejriwal asks Centre to relax vaccine rules

This grim situation comes in the backdrop of a surge in COVID-19 cases across the country, and various state governments implementing measures to curb the infections on war footing

FP Staff March 18, 2021 23:57:42 IST
Coronavirus News Update: Maharashtra surpasses 2020 peak with 25,833 fresh cases; Kejriwal asks Centre to relax vaccine rules

File photo of Uddhav Thackeray. Twitter@CMOMaharashtra

The state of Maharashtra reported its highest one-day spike since March 2020 with 25,833 patients testing positive on Thursday. These figures surpassed the previous high of 24,886 new cases, reported on 11 September 2020, when the pandemic had peaked in the state.

The new cases took the caseload to 23,96,340, the state health department said, and come just days after a central team report said that the state was at beginning of a second COVID-19 wave.

Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Thursday asked divisional commissioners to ensure that COVID-19 restrictions are implemented strictly in view of the spike in the number of cases.

In a virtual meeting, Thackeray said even though the state is witnessing a steep spike in the number of daily cases, the vaccination drive has also gained momentum.

"In view of the highest number of cases on Thursday since the outbreak of the pandemic last year, the district administration should speed up contact tracing and implementation of restrictions and safety protocols," he said.

This grim situation comes in the backdrop of a surge in COVID-19 cases across the country, and various state governments implementing measures to curb the infections on war footing. As per the health ministry, which publishes a tally of nationwide COVID-19 cases every day at 8 am, India Thursday reported 35,871 new COVID-19 cases, the highest single-day rise in over 100 days, taking the total COVID-19 tally to 1,14,74,605.

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh extended night curfew in the state by two hours, and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said that the government upped its daily target for inoculations to 1.25 lakh people.

Kejriwal also appealed to the Centre to relax vaccination guidelines, the strict categorisation of beneficiaries, in particular. He said that if the Centre allows state governments to inoculate everyone over 18 years of age, the "entire population of Delhi could be immunised in three months".

In Uttar Pradesh too, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath directed officials to increase the number of the RT-PCR tests to 50 percent of the daily count. These numbers, however, are still behind the 70 percent Prime Minister Narendra Modi had suggested during the chief minister's meet on Wednesday.

Taking cognisance of the spiralling situation, Modi had also warned that quick and decisive action was the only way to avoid a nationwide outbreak.

He had also flagged the issue of vaccine wastage, because of improper planning of distribution. The prime minister urged states to open more vaccination centres to minimise wastage.

New COVID-19 spike in Maharashtra surpasses last year's peak
While Maharashtra's daily figures touched a new high on Thursday, the state also recorded the highest recoveries of 2021 with 12,764 patients being discharged following treatment. The total recoveries now stands at 21,75,565 while there are 1,66,353 active cases in the state.

Maharashtra also recorded 58 deaths, taking the toll to 53,138 on Thursday.

Nagpur city on the second consecutive day recorded the highest number of new COVID-19 cases at 2,926, followed by 2,877 in Mumbai and 2,791 in Pune city.

Pune division comprising civic bodies of Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad as well as districts of Pune, Solapur and Satara reported cumulative 5,583 new cases, the highest among the divisions.

Mumbai's COVID-19 tally increased to 3,52,851 and eight deaths took the fatality count to 11,559. Mumbai division reported 5,190 new cases and 14 deaths.

On 7 October 2020, Mumbai had reported 2,848 new COVID-19 cases, the highest since the first infection in the city came to light on 11 March, 2020.

With 1,21,335 tests carried out on Thursday, the state has so far tested 1,79,56,830 samples for coronavirus . There are 8,13,211 people in home quarantine while 7,079 are in institutional quarantine.

Out of 58 deaths, 38 occurred in the last 48 hours and 15 in the last week. The remaining five deaths are from the period before the last week.

Addressing the meeting on Thursday, Thackeray set a target of vaccinating three lakh people per day.

The Centre has allowed 134 private hospitals in the state for the vaccination drive, he said. Health Secretary Pradeep Vyas said that if the rise in daily cases continues, there could be three lakh active cases in the state in the first week of April.

Meanwhile, the highly-populated slum area of Dharavi in Mumbai recorded its highest spike in cases too. In the last 24 hours, 30 coronavirus cases were recorded, which is the highest one-day spike since September, the BMC said.

Relax categorisation norms for vaccination, Kejriwal tells Centre

Acknowledging that coronavirus cases in Delhi have been rising in the last few days, Kejriwal, at a virtual press conference, asserted it was not a matter to be worried about. He added that the capacity of daily inoculation in Delhi will be augmented from 30,000-40,000 to 1.25 lakh.

He also said the number of vaccination centres will be doubled to 1,000 from about 500 at present spanning both government and private facilities. The closing time for vaccination would be extended and would be done from 9 am to 9 pm from 9 am to 5 pm currently.

Later in the day, an order about extending the timings of vaccination was issued by the state health department.

"All the facilities will ensure the deployment of adequate manpower at these sites to ensure the proper functioning of vaccination sites. Non-compliance shall be viewed seriously," it stated.

Kejriwal said that on one hand, India has taken a lead in making a vaccine, but unfortunately, on the other, a rise in coronavirus cases is being reported in the country. This is "difficult to digest", he said.

"Thus, I would appeal to the Central Government to bring some relaxations in the vaccination guidelines, in terms of eligibility of age groups. The current guidelines are very strict and rigid, and also has co-morbidity rider for an age group.

"Our country is now doing good in terms of the production of the vaccine. Therefore, rather than creating criteria on the eligibility, age groups with comorbidities, etc, we should create a category of ineligible people, for instance, people below 18 and other age groups," he said.

The chief minister suggested that the COVID-19 vaccination process be made open, and a walk-in facility should be included in case of a regular immunisation procedure.

"If the Centre relaxes those criteria and allows vaccination largely for all, and if we get a sufficient supply of the vaccine, then we have formulated a plan today to administer the vaccine to the entire population of Delhi in three months," he added.

Kejriwal also appealed to the Centre to decentralise the vaccination system so that it exercises less control and allows the state governments to carry out the job "on a war footing".

"I also want to appeal to the Central Government to provide some relaxation in the guidelines for the expansion of vaccination centres. We will be writing to the Centre to relax a few parameters. We assure them that we will be careful, and take all precautions.

"This relaxation will help us in opening new centres. Also, many of the existing centres are functioning 24 hours a day. We will have more centres functioning round-the-clock," he said.

During the press interaction, Kejriwal acknowledged a spike in COVID-19 cases in the city, particularly in the last three days, and said his government has directed officials for stricter tracking, tracing and isolation of cases.

On Wednesday, the number of daily cases increased to over 500. It was a "negligible" rise and "not a cause for worry".

"It was still much lower compared to several thousands of daily cases reported in June, September and November," the chief minister added.

Punjab govt extends night curfew timings

The Punjab government announced a two-hour extension in the night curfew in the state's nine worst-affected districts.

The chief minister said the coronavirus situation in the state is critical and warned people of stringent measures if they don't follow COVID appropriate behaviour. "I won't be easy on the people. People may not like it, but it's my duty," the chief minister said.

The night curfew will now be in place from 9 pm to 5 am, instead of 11 pm to 5 am, in Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Patiala, Mohali, Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala and Rupnagar.

All these districts have been reporting more than 100 cases daily.

The announcement came after 2,039 new cases and 35 more fatalities were reported in the state on Wednesday.

Ludhiana had reported 233 cases, Jalandhar 277, Patiala 203, Mohali 222, Amritsar 178, Gurdaspur 112, Hoshiarpur 191, Kapurthala 157 and Rupnagar 113.

Several stringent measures, including restrictions on gatherings, will be announced after discussions with the state government's expert COVID team over the next couple of days, the chief minister said while addressing a press conference to mark the completion of four years of his government.

"Whether these will include restrictions on political gatherings is also something that will be decided as per the medical expert team's advice," he added.

Night curfew timings increased by an hour in Ahmedabad

Following a sudden surge in coronavirus cases, the authorities in Gujarat's Ahmedabad city have decided to increase the night curfew timings by an hour.

The Gujarat government had earlier increased the night curfew timings in four major cities, including Ahmedabad, by two hours to stem the spread of the virus.

Night curfew timings earlier were from 12 am to 6 am, and then on Tuesday, timings were revised to 10 pm to 6 am. With the detection of 298 new COVID-19 cases in the city on Thursday, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation announced that instead of 10 pm, the night curfew in the city will begin from 9 pm and end at 6 am.

The new timing will come into effect from Friday, a release issued by the civic body stated. The AMC has also announced that all malls and cinema halls, where people gather in large numbers, will remain shut on weekends.

Italy to restart AstraZeneca vaccinations Friday, says PMDraghi

Meanwhile, even though several countries in Europe have temporarily suspended the use of the AstraZeneca/Oxford coronavirus vaccine (manufactured in India as Covishield) over suspected links to blood clots, Italy said that it will resume administering vaccines on Friday after the EU's drugs regulator declared them safe, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said.

Italy had suspended the use of the jab on Monday.

"The administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine will resume tomorrow. The government's priority remains to carry out as many vaccinations as possible in the shortest possible time," Draghi said in a statement.

More than 400 million doses administered worldwide

Despite the suspension of the AstraZeneca shot in more than a dozen countries, more than 400 million doses of vaccines have been given around the world as of Thursday, according to an AFP tally.

The last 100 million people vaccinated got their jabs in 11 days -- six times faster than it took to give the first 100 million, the news agency reported.

By Thursday at 1630 GMT at least 402.3 million doses had been administered in more than 158 countries around the world.

While rich countries have fared best, vaccination in the poorer countries is, at last, starting under the free Covax programme, it said.

Israel is still leading the race by far, with nearly three out of five of its population having received at least one dose. Around half of Israeli have received a second dose.

The United Kingdom (38 percent), the United Arab Emirates (between 35 and 70 percent), Chile (28 percent), the United States (22 percent), Bahrain (22 percent) and Serbia (16 percent by March 12) are also doing well.

In terms of pure numbers, the US is way ahead with 113 million jabs given before China with 65 million (as of March 14), India (39 million) and the UK with 27.6 million.

European Union countries have given 54.4 million doses to 8.5 percent of the bloc's population.

With inputs from PTI

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