MUMBAI: In an unprecedented move, the Maharashtra government on Monday decided to 'stamp' all those people who have been sent to 100 per cent 'home quarantine' in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
Accordingly, the left hand of all persons shunted to 100 per cent home quarantine will be stamped to identify them easily if they mingle with the general public.
The decision, taken at a meeting of top officials chaired by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, has been described as a precautionary measure after 39 cases of COVID-19 have been detected in the state - highest in India - and around seven suspected patients had fled from treatment centres in the past couple of days.
Late on Monday evening, Greater Mumbai's Municipal Commissioner Pravin Pardeshi issued an order to all officials concerned at hospitals and the airport, asking them to 'stamp' behind the left palm of the home quarantined person concerned, the dates of isolation, with ink that would last for 14 days.
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"It is not a crime if somebody is infected by Covid-19. They must be given proper medical treatment and psychological support. The Epidemic Diseases Act has been invoked in the interest of the people and the district administration must create awareness on it," Thackeray asserted.
He directed that all facilities must be provided for persons under home quarantine and also at the other treatment centres, where the existing patients are responding to treatment.
Health Minister Rajesh Tope said that on the lines of the indelible ink applied to voters during elections, a stamp will be imprinted on the left hand indicating "that person/patient is under compulsory home quarantine" till March 31.
"This will help other people identify them if they break home quarantine and mix among the public during their home isolation period," he said.
The state government has also made it a punishable offence if any person attempts to evade the compulsory quarantine, or breaks 'home quarantine' and would forcibly move such person to a government isolation facility.
Additionally, entry to Mantralaya -- the state government headquarters and a major public hub -- shall be banned till March 31, except for those on official duties, days after the Maharashtra Legislature's Budget Session was curtailed by a week in view of the coronavirus precautions.
All upcoming local bodies and civic elections have been postponed by three months, the shutdown of academic institutions in urban centres has been extended to cover all educational institutions even in rural areas.
Thackeray announced a special Rs 45 crore fund to tackle the pandemic to be distributed among the Divisional Commissioners at Konkan and Pune (Rs 15 crore and Rs 10 crore, respectively), while Rs 5 crore each will be disbursed to Nagpur, Amravati, Aurangabad and Nashik.
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The money would be utilised to provide various facilities at the quarantine centres including food, television sets, indoor games like carrom, etc., and district authorities have been authorised to make emergency purchases of ventilators or required medical equipment.
While religious activities can be continued unhindered, there must be absolutely no crowds of devotees at any religious place, the CM said.
Thackeray appealed that those who have been advised home quarantine must voluntarily refrain from stepping out in public to prevent any risk to others.
Taking a cue, Mumbai's famed 220-year old Siddhivinayak Temple decided to shut down for an "indefinite period" though its Health Department, which provides medical aid to the needy persons, will function as usual.
Shree Siddhivinayak Ganapati Temple Trust Chairman and actor Aadesh Bandekar said that the decision has been taken as a precaution against coronavirus and the popular place of worship will be closed "until further orders".
Simultaneously, the Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust (SSST) has 'advised' all Saibaba 'palkhis' (palanquin processions) coming from all over Maharashtra and other parts of the country to defer or cancel their processions for the time being.
Thackeray said that as per the blanket ban, no permission would be given to any organisation, political party or event management companies for holding any programme/events where crowds would gather.
He also appealed to religious leaders of various faiths and elected representatives to use their "influence" and create awareness among the people to comply with the government norms.