India’s worst-hit state imposes strict restrictions

MUMBAI (AP) — India’s worst-hit and richest state Maharashtra imposed stricter restrictions for 15 days yesterday in an effort to stem the surge of coronavirus infections that is threatening to overcome hospitals.

Top state officials stressed that the closure of most industries, businesses, public places and limits on the movement of people didn’t constitute a lockdown.

Last year, a sudden, harsh, nationwide lockdown left millions jobless overnight. Stranded in cities with no income or food, thousands of migrant workers walked on highways to get home. Since then, state leaders have repeatedly stressed that another lockdown wasn’t on the cards.

The distinction did little to allay Ramachal Yadav’s anxieties. Yesterday morning, he joined others at a Mumbai railway station getting on a train back home. “There is no work,” said the 45-year-old.

India has detected over 180,000 new infections in the past 24 hours, about a third in Maharashtra state.

India has so far confirmed over 13.9 million cases and 172,000 dead in what is l ikely an undercount.

People stand in queues to board trains at Lokmanya Tilak Terminus in Mumbai, India. PHOTO: AP

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said that most public places, shops and establishments were shut at 8pm yesterday, except essential services like grocery shops and banks.

Although the state has announced a relief package of USD728 million that will include assistance for the poor, industry experts said that the new restrictions might prove fatal for businesses that were only just recovering from last year’s economic recession.

“Livelihoods are important, but life is more important,” Thackeray said, echoing a difficult choice faced by other states in India.

The scenes playing out in Maharashtra in the past week mirror those developing in other parts of the country: patients gasping for air turned away from hospitals that are running out of oxygen and weeping families waiting their turn to bid farewell to their loved ones at crematoria.

Compounding concerns is the question of whether India, despite being the world’s largest maker of vaccines, will have enough to immunise its vast population swiftly enough to slow down the virus.

India said on Tuesday that it would authorise vaccines that had been given an emergency nod by the World Health Organization or regulators in the United States, Europe, Britain or Japan. Indian regulators also approved Russia’s Sputnik V for emergency use. But experts said that the decision was unlikely to have any immediate impact on supplies available in the country.

“All one can think of is that, I hope I don’t fall ill over the next month or so,” said Dr Vineeta Bal, who studies immune systems at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Pune city in Maharashtra state.