Maharashtra is “in the beginning of a second wave of Covid”, said the Centre on Tuesday, reported News18. It has pulled up the Uddhav Thackeray-led government for not enforcing Covid-appropriate behaviour among the citizens and asked the authorities to step up contact tracing and vaccination.

In two separate letters to the Maharashtra Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan urged the state to focus on containment strategies. The letters are based on the assessment of a central team that visited the state between March 7 and 11.

“Maharashtra is in the beginning of a second wave of Covid-19 pandemic,” said Bhushan in his concluding remarks, according to NDTV. “There [is] very limited active effort to track, test, isolate cases and quarantine contacts. There is no adherence to Covid appropriate behaviour among people both in rural and urban areas. The Central team inferred that the administrative mechanism should be re-instated to the level witnessed in August-September 2020 to contain/suppress the Covid transmission.”

Also read: As Mumbai battles its third Covid-19 surge, could vaccination stop the wave?

In his first letter to the state, dated March 12, Bhushan said vaccination in districts that are witnessing a surge needs to speed up. He said a total of 54.17 lakh vaccine doses have been supplied to the state and an additional 12.74 lakh doses will reach by March 18.

“As on 12 March 2021 a total of only 23.98 lakh vaccinations have been administered as part of Covid-19 vaccination drive thereby leaving adequate stocks available with the state for increasing the pace of vaccination and for focussing the vaccination effort… for eligible beneficiaries in districts showing an active case surge,” he wrote.

In his second letter, dated March 15, Bhushan pointed out that a large number of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people were not being tracked and tested. He said that for every positive case, at least 20 to 30 close contacts must be traced and tracked, according to PTI.

“The testing has to be augmented to bring the test positivity rate to less than 5%,” it read, according to The Print. “Whereas mainstay of testing shall be RT-PCR, the state should also utilize RAT kits as per ICMR guidance especially in containment zones and high-risk settings like super-spreader events, bus stops, railway stations, slums, densely populated areas etc.”

Maharashtra has been reporting a major share of India’s overall daily new cases. On Monday, Maharashtra registered 15,051 new cases, pushing the infection tally to 23,29,464. State Health Minister Rajesh Tope warned that a lockdown will be imposed in districts that are reporting a high number of coronavirus disease cases, if the situation there does not improve. The Nagpur district was put under lockdown on Monday till March 21, for the first time since nationwide curbs were lifted in June. The district reported 2,094 new infections, taking its overall count to 1.51 lakh.

Bhushan noted in his letter that the current case fatality was found to be very high in the Government Medical College in Aurangabad and in Nashik’s Vasant Rao Pawar Medical College. He added that a detailed investigation, including whole genome sequencing, was needed.

“We could sense a feeling that enough has been done already,” said Bhushan. “This complacency may take its toll.”

The Centre noted that some districts have enforced fresh restrictions but pointed out that these “may have only very limited impact on containing/suppressing the transmission”. “Hence the district administration should focus on containment strategy as per the guidelines of the health ministry,” said the Centre.

A healthcare worker collects a swab sample from a woman during a coronavirus testing campaign in Mumbai. (Credit: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters)

Bhushan also said that amid the surge in infections, Maharashtra should plan for “a worse-case scenario with sufficient lead time”, according to PTI.

The health ministry official called for improvements in the containment strategy, PTI reported. He suggested that containment zones be defined based on contact listing and digital mapping of cases and contacts. “The buffer zones need to be delineated. The perimeter control needs to be strictly enforced,” he said. “For each containment zone, the Rapid Response Teams should develop an operational plan.”

Bhushan said that there was a need to address vaccine hesitancy among frontline workers. He also asked the state government to speed up the vaccination of elderly people and those with comorbidities.

Situation is pretty grim, says Covid task force member

A member of the state’s Covid-19 task called the situation in Maharashtra “pretty grim”. Dr Shashank Joshi added that the pandemic may go out of hand if people continue to be in “fatigue mode”.

“The situation is pretty grim in Maharashtra,” Dr Joshi told CNBC-TV18. “There is a fast-spreading Covid-19 strain. Testing in Mumbai has reduced. “Lack of masking in restaurants is a big concern in Maharashtra. It will be tough to contain the pandemic if public continues to be in fatigue mode.”

He further added that lesser exposed areas in Mumbai were reporting more number of cases. The city of Mumbai on Monday witnessed a slight reduction in cases as 1,712 new daily infections were recorded, against Sunday’s case count of 1,963. The tally rose to 3,45,659, while four new deaths pushed the toll to 11,535. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation on Monday released a list of new guidelines curbing social, political and religious gathering. It also capped the number of people allowed to attend weddings and funerals at 50 and 20, respectively.

Dr Joshi said vaccination is leading to “sense of irresponsibility” among the public. “Need to be on the guard for two months after vaccination,” he added. “Antibodies can rapidly decline and one can see a re-occurrence.”