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Covid: Maharashtra cases as high as Russia

Infections spike after festival, set to cross 1 million
A BMC worker carries out fumigation at Rey Road area in Mumbai on Friday.

Reuters   |   Mumbai   |   Published 12.09.20, 04:29 AM

India’s biggest and richest state, Maharashtra, is set to record its millionth infection of the new coronavirus on Friday, putting it on a par with Russia in the pandemic.

The state is on pace to blow past the 1-million mark as infections have been rising some 20,000 a day recently. Maharashtra, if it were a country, would now rival Russia for the world’s fourth-highest caseload.

India is likely to hit 5 million cases in coming days, behind only the US.

“Maharashtra accounts for approximately 15 per cent of India’s GDP.  Unless Maharashtra gets back on its feet, India’s chances for an economic recovery are bleak,” said Reuben Abraham, head of IDFC Institute, a policy think-tank.

Yet Maharashtra’s authorities are unable to ease many restrictions in the state. Public transport, malls and other businesses remain depressed.

That is unlikely to change soon for a state that is home to several major industries, including its three most valuable companies — Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, Reliance Industries Ltd and HDFC Bank.

While several cities around India have resumed commuter rail, Maharashtra has held off. In Mumbai — where packed trains define the workday — suburban train service has been halted since March for all but essential workers.

Resuming public transport in the city this month would lead to a second wave, which would be “difficult to manage”, says a research paper submitted to Mumbai authorities this week.

Indeed, Maharashtra’s partial reopening of factories in recent months, local festivals and lockdown fatigue help to explain the state’s Covid-19 surge, local health officials told Reuters.

“People have tired after spending months at home and they’re stepping out despite knowing they could get infected,” said Subhash Chavhan, a surgeon in Satara district. “They’re no longer taking coronavirus seriously.”

The state’s initial reopening, starting in July, accelerated the spread to previously less-hit rural areas, said Dr Pradip Awate, Maharashtra’s disease surveillance officer.

Tiny Rajewadi village did not have a single confirmed coronavirus case until mid-August. Recently, one in every four was testing positive for the virus.

Also, contributing to Maharashtra’s infections was the 11-day Ganesh Utsav last month, a festival that sees huge numbers of people travelling to and from their hometowns. “Before the Ganesh festival there were on an average 60 new cases daily in the district. Now we’re recording more than 150,” said an official in the coastal district of Ratnagiri.

Covid-19 is also deadlier in Maharashtra, where it has killed 2.85 per cent of people with confirmed infections, well above the national mortality rate of 1.68 per cent. Maharashtra’s death toll, over 28,000, accounts for 37 per cent of India’s total.

Rajesh Tope, Maharashtra’s health minister, defended the higher caseload saying the state has been doing more tests than others and is being more transparent, too.

“We’ve never tried to hide cases just because they are rising,” said Tope, adding that Maharashtra has slashed the maximum private labs can charge for the more accurate RT-PCR testing to Rs 1,200, barely a quarter of the national cap.


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