In a huge dampener ahead of the Christmas-New Year festivities, the Maharashtra government on Monday announced a return of night curfew for 15 days from December 22, amidst the huge global scare over a new strain of Covid-19 virus detected in the UK.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said that the state government has beefed up its defences to tackle the situation, including imposing a night curfew in the jurisdiction of BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation and 26 other civic bodies for the next 15 days — from December 22 till January 5.
“We have to be extremely vigilant over the next 15 days. Accordingly, the curfew in all municipal areas shall be in force on all nights till January 5,” he said.
The move for the 11 pm-6 am curfew came after conducting detailed deliberations with top officials of various departments here, said an official.
Additionally, starting from Monday night, the state has made 14 days’ institutional quarantine compulsory for all travelers from UK, Europe and Middle East, as a precaution, the CM said.
Besides these measures, 14 days’ home quarantine will be mandatory for all passengers arriving from all other countries by flights to the international airports in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur.
“The new virus strain detected in UK is spreading rapidly and its lethality will be known in the next few days. We cannot afford to drop our vigil for the next 15 days and so these extra precautions,” Thackeray declared, asking the health authorities to set up a “special hospital for treating anyone from Europe who may be carrying the new virus”.
“The new protocols shall be enforced very strictly. Under no circumstances can we afford the new virus strain to enter Mumbai or Maharashtra,” BMC Commissioner I.S. Chahal warned in an address shortly afterwards.
Reacting to the new restrictions, prominent travel consultant Tushar Asher told IANS that this “could effectively throw water on all the mega-celebrations planned for Christmas eve and Christmas, besides the New Year Eve, and may lead to cancellations of various events, bookings at hotels, restaurants, tourist destinations of hill and sea resorts in the state”.
Another travel industry professional B. K. Pillai rued that for the first time since the lockdown was enforced in March this year, the hospitality industry had secured handsome bookings at various hill-stations and sea resorts for the festival season starting with Christmas and into the first week of the New Year, but now “those celebrations may remain a dream”.
Chahal also said that all incoming air-passengers from the UK, Europe, and the Middle East shall undergo a compulsory RTPCR Covid-19 test on the 5th or 7th day, and they will be permitted to go home only after completing their isolation period.
The state has ordered all the civic Commissioners of Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur where international flights land, to make suitable arrangements for hospitals, hotels or other places for institutional quarantine of the incoming passengers.
Asked why all the 27 civic bodies in the state are put under a night curfew, a top health department official, declining to be identified, told IANS: “After landing at any of the three international airports, many passengers travel to other districts, or cities, massively increasing the risk of spread and infections. The night curfew plus compulsory institutional quarantine is expected to check this huge possibility.”
Chahal added that in recent weeks, civic and police squads have found people violating Covid-19 protocols, not wearing face masks or maintaining social distancing, and hundreds of violators have been penalised.
The government has also directed that all airport staff handling flights and passengers from the target countries should be provided proper PPE kits and other precautions, besides other strict adherence to the protocols.