India’s Richest State Tightens Curbs as Virus Cripples Hospitals
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. (Source: Office of Uddhav Thackeray Twitter)

India’s Richest State Tightens Curbs as Virus Cripples Hospitals

India’s most industrialized state tightened restrictions through April as a fresh wave of coronavirus infections cripple its health infrastructure.

Maharashtra, which houses financial hub Mumbai, will allow only ultra-essential manufacturers such as medical equipment providers and grocery stores to stay open from 8 p.m. April 14 until 7 a.m. May 1. Banks, stock exchanges, telecom firms and the regulators will run, but every office that can shut or work from home should do so, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said in a televised address Tuesday.

“Everything has a maximum capacity it can bear,” Thackeray said. “If we pile on more pressure, the system will break down.”

Even limited curfews can cut industrial output by as much as 50% and most chief executive officers surveyed by the Confederation of Indian Industry said they were against more lockdowns and instead want the government to allow them to vaccinate all their employees. Under current Indian rules, only people above 45 years of age can be innoculated, and the country is already running out of shots despite local manufacturing capabilities.

At the current pace of injections, India would need 1.3 years to cover 75% of its population with a two-dose vaccine. The virus has already sickened 13.5 million and killed more than 170,000 in the nation.

Mumbai reported almost 8,000 new infections on Thursday and Maharashtra a record 60,212. There are only 45 intensive care beds and 12 ventilators unoccupied in the city. Authorities have requested the air force and commercial airlines to ferry oxygen cylinders, and are appealing even to medical students to come forward and help.

Maharashtra imposed Section 144 through April, a law that restricts people’s movements.

To help tide over the fresh lockdown, Thackeray announced free rice and wheat for poor families through the month, and community kitchens -- which serve subsidized meals -- will now make them free. Cash will be deposited into the bank accounts of vulnerable individuals who lose their livelihoods. In all, the state will spend 54 billion rupees ($716 million) to support its vulnerable, Thackeray said.

“Right now we are focused on saving lives,” he said. “That’s my most important goal.”

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