Maharashtra's tourism, environment and protocol minister Aaditya Thackeray spoke to Hindustan Times about the Covid-19 numbers, the unlocking plan, testing protocols, and the condition in state hospitals, among other issues. Edited excerpts:
We're speaking at a time when various states are emerging from the lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19, which has hit Maharashtra particularly hard.
We've been on top of the situation, and the public has been very cooperative. Covid is one scenario where no one in the world has been able to predict how long it will go on for. We just started the mission "begin again" yesterday because lockdown has been around for 2-3 months and as we start opening up, it has to be very slow, staggered, carefully planned. We went into lockdown in a measured manner starting March 8, and the same has to be done while coming out of it.
What's the thought process behind opening shops but not malls?
There have been several deliberations on this, from directions and observations from the World Health Organization to what other countries are doing. For instance, if there is single air circulation, is that more detrimental than not having air conditioning was one of the factors. Footfall was another factor. From June 2 or 3, we've made it possible for people to at least step out and get into a little bit of physical exercise but not go indoors. Then June 5 onwards, alternate sides of roads for shops, and from June 8 onwards, offices with 10% staff. All of this is always going to be trial and error, it will be a system of cooperation of citizens, a two-way process.
What's the thinking on schools?
They usually open in June. Most of the schools, especially in red zones, are quarantine facilities and so we can't open them right now. But, we've begun a process of speaking to people in the sector and how education can continue. Can we do it offline in green zones, what does social distancing mean, these are some of the deliberations that we are having. There was a meeting that the CM held with people yesterday in terms of education and technology and we can't let academic year pass by without education beginning. Our school's ratio is one teacher to 45 kids, so how do we do physical distancing there?
The numbers in Maharashtra look...
Scary, yes. The first and foremost principle we have to use as a government is to not fear the numbers. In cities such as New York and those in Brazil, the population is very different from the density in Mumbai. A higher number isn't a higher infection that a neighbouring city or state, it only means that the government has been more successful in identifying the carriers and isolating them. You will probably have a peak sooner rather than later and so we have told all our officers on the ground, don't fear the numbers, chase the case.
Why aren't you testing asymptomatic people?
We are going by ICMR guidelines. The world over, asymptomatic people don't need any intervention; they can self-isolate. Guidelines say you have to test high risk group between fifth and tenth day, and we are going by that.
When you speak of hospital beds, we recall images from KEM hospital with patients lying amid dead bodies. Can you explain those pictures?
We have said this before - there are a few things that have to be set in process once someone dies of Covid. You have to seal the body, you have to wait for someone to claim it, but apart from that, we are also clearing a lot more space for the mortuary. You have to understand the pressure the medical system is facing around the world, as no one has seen so many patients at one time in one place. So no matter what you do, you will have a shortage, as you have tons more people than you have hospital beds or ICU beds. We've moved into creating more hospital and medical facilities. In terms of beds for isolation wards, we had only 400 but in the last 15 days, we've gone to 5,000. We have to grapple with the gravity of the situation.
Do you feel that you are getting all the help and cooperation you need from the Centre?
If you have two different parties or two different coalitions are ruling at the state and Centre, then there will always be tussles. There has been great cooperation within the parties in the state and with the Prime Minister, the home minister and the chief minister. These three major entities have been in great cooperation and coordination with each other. That by far has kept politics aside during the time of the pandemic. I don't think this is the right time for any minister to speak about any politics.
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