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Contagion rages: Political and commercial capitals prepare for near-total lockdown

MUMBAINEW DELHI : India’s political and commercial capitals prepared for an imminent near-total lockdown beginning Friday as the number of infections from the coronavirus pandemic raced past the 200 mark and the global death toll crossed 10,000.

The Maharashtra government ordered a shutdown in Mumbai and other cities, as the number of Covid-19 infections continued to rise sharply in the state. “We have decided to shut down all non-essential services in Mumbai Metropolitan region as well as Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad and Nagpur till the end of this month…Grocery, milk shops, and banks will be functioning,” said chief minister Uddhav Thackeray.

In Delhi, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said; “We had contained it so far. There has been no community spread, but we need to keep it like that. We need to take necessary precaution.”

Maharashtra, the worst affected state, has registered the highest number of confirmed cases. The shutdown will take place from midnight on Friday till 31 March. The announcement came after three more people were tested positive for Covid-19, taking the state’s total to 52.

In a public video address, Thackeray urged people to stay at home and appealed for calm. He also reassured people that the Shiv Sena-led coalition government had all the necessary resources to fight the virus.

Essential services, including drinking water, sewerage services, banks, telephone and internet services, food, vegetables, groceries, hospitals, medical centres, medical stores, electricity, petroleum, oil, energy, media, port, and IT services, will continue to operate. “We have no weapons to fight this thing (virus) except social distancing and, hence, we have decided to take this step,” Thackeray said. “The next 15 days are going to very crucial for us.”

Government offices will operate at 25% attendance, against the 50% announced earlier.

Thackeray also urged firms not to cut employees’ salaries during the shutdown. “Trains and buses will continue to operate, and shutting them down will be the last option.”

The state government is drawing up a financial plan on account of the losses likely to be suffered by the state.

Till Thursday night, 49 positive cases of Covid-19 had been detected in the state, including a 64-year person, who died in Mumbai earlier this week. On Thursday the dabbawalas, Mumbai’s famous food delivery service, suspended operations till 31 March. Typically, dabbawalas deliver around 200,000 tiffin boxes every day.

In Delhi, Kejriwal announced a series of social distancing measures, including immediate closure of malls and shopping complexes, barring essential services, such as pharmacy and groceries. Dine-in restaurants will be closed till 31 March, and assembly of more than 20 people won’t be allowed. Schools, colleges, gyms and cinemas have also been shut.

The number of Covid-19 cases in Delhi reached 17 with the detection of five new cases. Nationwide, 241 have tested positive, with 52 new cases.

On Friday, Kejriwal held a meeting with all the heads of departments and secretaries and announced that all non-essential public dealing activities will also be stopped till 31 March. He said the steps were being taken due to the rise in number of cases. “Only essential public dealing activities will continue. All non-essential staff are being directed to work from home. All permanent and contractual employees will be paid for this period,” he said.

In a related development, The Confederation of All India Traders , with around 70 million business establishments as members, announced the closure of shops and business establishments in Delhi for three days, beginning Saturday.

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