16/03/2020 7:31 PM IST | Updated 16/03/2020 7:47 PM IST

With 39 Coronavirus Cases, Maharashtra Is Staring At Community Transmission

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said the next 15-20 days are crucial for the state as the virus has reached rural areas like Yavatmal and Ahmednagar.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray

NAGPUR, Maharashtra — India’s wealthiest state, Maharashtra, is now leading the coronavirus tally with 39 positive cases.

“In other countries, it has been observed that this virus increased drastically in its third and fourth week. Maharashtra is entering that phase now and I want to tell everyone that the next 15 to 20 days are crucial,” Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said in a hurriedly organised press conference in Mumbai on Monday evening.

Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope tweeted that the cases included 16 from Pune, 6 from Mumbai, 4 from Nagpur, 3 from Navi Mumbai, 3 from Kalyan and one from Thane.

However, more worrying is the fact that rural areas of the state, where health facilities aren’t as developed as urban centres, are already affected.

While Yavatmal, a primarily agrarian district along the state’s eastern border, has three cases so far, Aurangabad, Raigad, and Ahmednagar districts have reported one case each.

“As of now, the school and college shut down was limited to some urban centres but now schools and colleges in rural Maharashtra will be closed. It’s a global crisis now. We have not stopped trains and buses or shut down the hotels yet. Whatever we are doing is for the good of the people but we can’t bring a law for everything. I request all religious institutions, temples, masjids, and churches to avoid gathering crowds. I request everyone, please don’t crowd public places and try to avoid public transport. Even if it’s not the time of danger but its time to take care,” the Chief Minister appealed. 

Thackeray said that the next 15-20 days are going to be a big test for Maharashtra. “The entire state machinery is ready to deal with it. Let’s face it together so that we can contain it. Please avoid weddings, public functions, and even political events. The next 15-20 days are going to be a big test for all of us. If we face it together now, we can stop a major crisis.”.

HuffPost India had reported on Friday that the state was trying to contain the pandemic to urban centres, where India’s stretched public health system at least has some chance of identifying and treating patients.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
People wear masks as protection from coronavirus at Kasturba Hospital, in Mumbai where Covid-19 suspects and infected patients have been kept

When asked about news reports of patients running away from hospitals, Tope told reporters in Mumbai, “There is a need to explain to them the severity of the virus. We are now at Stage 2 of this virus. If we don’t stop it now, we will enter Stage 3 which would mean a huge spike in the number of people infected by it. But we are trying our best to contain and control it at this stage only.”

Stage 2 refers to local transmission of the virus, i.e, the transmission that has occurred within India’s borders. The next stage, which the Maharashtra government is fighting hard to prevent, is community transmission.

The Economic Times on Saturday quoted experts as saying that while community transmission—when a person who has neither traveled abroad nor interacted with anyone who has tested positive for the virus—is inevitable in India, it is important to halt its beginning.

“Out of the 38 cases, 18 people had traveled from abroad to the state. Through them, some other 12-15 people got infected,” Tope added

The first confirmed case was of a Pune-based family, who was part of a holiday tour package to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The family members passed on the virus to their circle of contacts, including a Mumbai-based taxi driver. 

The state government has also asked the Election Commission to postpone all gram panchayat and municipal elections by three months. On Friday, it had announced the closure of all malls, swimming pools and gyms in Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad.

“Rs 15 crore has been sanctioned for big regional commissionerates and Rs 5 crore for smaller ones for immediate expenditure to deal with this novel virus,” Tope said.

The state government’s administrative headquarters, Mumbai’s Mantralaya, is closed to visitors now, and orders have been issued to impose Section 144 in some areas to prevent crowds.

“The aim is to stop the crowd. As of now, out of 39 positive patients, no one is critical… Powers have been given to collectors and commissioners to make decisions in the interest of people to stop the spread of this virus. It’s not a complete lockdown or shutdown yet. It is partial but we appeal to everyone to try to work from home as far as possible,” he added

He also said that hospitals have been asked to create an atmosphere, including some means of entertainment, that would make patients want to stay in the hospitals.