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'Will have to go aggressive; can still suspend public transport'

By Prasanna D Zore
March 18, 2020 17:18 IST
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Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope warns that the state government will go aggressive if appeals to reduce social distancing are not adhered to.

IM,AG: A stamp on a coronavirus-affected patient after home quarantine which recommends 14 days of social distancing or earlier if the suspect turns out to be tested negative in Mumbai. Photograph: PTI Photo

"As of 1 pm, March 18, 42 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and they have been kept under quarantine and isolation. We have done these tests on 800 people out of which 42 have tested positive," Rajesh Tope, Maharashtra's health minister, tells Prasanna D Zore/

Statistically speaking, roughly five per cent of the total who have been undergone the tests have tested positive for COVID-19 virus.

Tope was in Pune to inspect National Virology of Institute facilities and how the testing infrastructure can be boosted or optimised.

"We are opening up a lot many laboratories (testing centres) and these laboratories will need to have validation from the National Institute of Virology, Pune, and permission from the Indian Council of Medical Research. I want to expedite this process and so I am making efforts to coordinate with these two institutes. We will also be involving private labs to get COVID-19 tests done," Tope says over the phone from Pune.

Maintaining that the proposal to suspend public transport in Mumbai is still on the table, Tope hints that the state government would have no option but to go aggressive if people continue to crowd local trains and buses.

"We have not yet done it, but are still thinking about suspending Mumbai locals and BEST services because there are two sides to it. We need to suspend these services from the point of view of containing the spread of coronavirus by going for social distancing which is a difficult task given how crowded our public transport systems are," the minister says.

"But the flip side is we also have to think about livelihoods of all those people who depend on daily wages. So, we have decided to keep that decision in hold for a day or two," Tope adds.

"If people respond to appeals from the state government and don't come out of their houses and avoid public transport then that is fine, but if they don't then we have to go aggressively and close down (suspend public transport services)," the minister warns.

"We have appealed to corporates, businesses and government institutions to encourage their staffers to work from home so that the number of people taking public transport automatically comes down," says Tope.

"If they don't follow these requests, then we can't allow the pressure of spreading the virus through use of public transport. That way we hope the load on public transport comes down and spread of virus is contained."

"Most of the corporates and businesses are heeding our advisory but if someone doesn't follow them, then the municipal corporation will do the needful," he says.

"We are continuously and aggressively monitoring the situation on the ground."

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