India’s Maharashtra tightens COVID curbs as hospitals struggle

Maharashtra state and its capital Mumbai are the current epicentre of the country’s infection spike.

People wait in a line to enter a supermarket amid the spread of the coronavirus in Mumbai [File: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]
People wait in a line to enter a supermarket amid the spread of the coronavirus in Mumbai [File: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

India’s Maharashtra state has announced tighter coronavirus restrictions including in the regional capital, Mumbai, as infections surge and oxygen supplies run short.

India is experiencing a ferocious new wave of COVID-19 with about a million new cases reported in the past week.

The new restrictions will force all “non-essential” shops, malls and e-commerce deliveries to pause operations from Wednesday until May 1.

Shooting for movies, television shows and advertisements in Bollywood will also grind to a halt, in what will be a blow to India’s flagship film industry.

Bars and restaurants were shut earlier this month, and public gatherings of more than five people are banned.

The new measures follow Maharashtra’s move to impose a state-wide weekend lockdown that confined the state’s 125 million people to their homes until the end of April unless shopping for food or medicine, or travelling.

“All factories/industries” barring some export-oriented units and those making items needed for essential services “must stop their operations”, a government notification said.

Acknowledging the toll that tighter restrictions will take on the economy and jobs, the state’s chief minister Uddhav Thackeray urged residents to follow the new rules, adding: “Lives are more important than livelihoods.

“You have to decide if you are going to help corona or help those fighting corona,” he said in a televised speech.

E-commerce deliveries will be allowed but only for essential products, the government said.

The restrictions will jolt businesses in Maharashtra but also risk having a broader effect on the Indian economy. The state accounts for nearly 15 percent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP), making it crucial for the country’s economic recovery after months of slowdown.

Widespread misery

India’s worst-hit state is also struggling with oxygen shortages, Thackeray said, asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to deploy the air force and send fresh supplies.

After a lockdown a year ago caused widespread misery and one of the sharpest downturns of any major economy, the central government is desperate to avoid a hugely unpopular second shutdown.

But many states are tightening the screws, in particular Maharashtra and its capital Mumbai, the epicentre of the infection spike, which has recorded nearly 87,000 infections since the start of the pandemic.

This week, India overtook Brazil to become the country with the second-highest number of coronavirus cases, with experts blaming coronavirus complacency and frustration for the case surge.

India’s drive to vaccinate its 1.3 billion people has also appeared to hit obstacles, with just 108.5 million shots administered so far and stocks running low, according to local authorities.

On Tuesday, India said it would fast-track emergency approvals for vaccines that have been authorised by Western countries and Japan. The health ministry said the decision was aimed at speeding up the use of shots made in other countries and expanding the “basket of vaccines” available for domestic use.

The ministry also said Russia’s Sputnik V had also been green-lit for emergency use.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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