NEW DELHI: The western Indian state of Maharashtra imposed a partial lockdown on its main cities on Friday, including the country’s financial hub Mumbai, as the region recorded the highest number of coronavirus cases.
All offices, shops and markets in Mumbai, Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad and Nagpur will remain closed until March 31, with the exception of those providing essential goods and services, the chief minister of Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray, announced.
He appealed to private employers not to stop paying their employees’ salaries.
“Crises will come and go, but don’t stop your humanity,” Thackeray said. He did not specify whether the state would offer any financial support to suspended businesses.
Alarmed by an increasing number of infections in the state, Thackeray said if people did not stop flocking to local trains, the government would, in a “last resort” measure, suspend public transportation.
Earlier this week, Maharashtra took the drastic step of stamping the hands of people flying into state airports with waterproof ink.
“If such people go out, others can identify them as home quarantine patients. This is being done so that patients strictly observe home quarantine,” Rajesh Tope, health minister of Maharashtra, told reporters.
The decision came after 11 people in the state, who were in isolation awaiting their coronavirus test results, escaped from a Mumbai hospital.
At least 52 people have tested positive in Maharashtra — a quarter of all cases reported in India.
The Mumbai shutdown decision comes a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on Thursday night that a nationwide one-day curfew would be in effect on Sunday.
“This curfew will be for the people and by the people of India, and will be from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday,” Modi said in a televised address to the nation.
During the curfew, all means of public transportation will be shut down.
Political analysts see the one-day shutdown as a way to prepare Indians for longer lockdowns in the coming future.
“Considering the experience of some of the worst-affected countries, if India wants the virus not to spread, then it will have to shut down cities and towns for a couple of weeks. The public curfew is just a step in that direction,” the Gaya-based editor of the Hindu daily Prabhat Khabar newspaper, Pawan Pratyay, told Arab News.
In his Thursday address, Modi also announced the establishment of the COVID-19 Economic Response Task Force to assess the impact of the global pandemic on the Indian economy, and advise steps to reduce its burden on the country’s financial sector.
Also on Thursday, the Indian government imposed a week-long ban on all incoming international flights, starting on Sunday.