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LONGER RUNWAY

Mumbai keeps pushing a lockdown further away

A policeman asks people to leave the promenade at Marine drive, in Mumbai
Reuters/Niharika Kulkarni
Strict measures, but not the strictest one yet.
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Mumbai isn’t going into lockdown—not yet, anyway.

Earlier this week, Mumbai municipal corporation chief Iqbal Singh Chahal said India’s financial hub would only impose restrictions if daily cases crossed the 20,000 mark. Mayor Kishori Pednekar had said the same. Yesterday (Jan. 6), Mumbai clocked 20,181 positive cases.

However, the city will not shut down even as omicron surges, Chahal told Bloomberg yesterday (Jan. 6). Just over 5% of patients need intense medical help (most of them unvaccinated) and the death rate is still low—about one a day in the last two weeks. “There is no case for a lockdown,” he said. More than 85% of those who’ve caught the virus are asymptomatic.

Mumbai still has enough hospital beds for covid-19 patients

The threshold for a lockdown has moved significantly. Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope says lockdown measures won’t be implemented until 20,000 hospital beds are occupied. That’s just over half the covid-19 beds currently available in the city.

As of now, bed occupancy is at 5,998. If this number shoots up, short-staffed medical facilities will struggle to cope. To prepare, 10,000-capacity government-run centers are getting ready, and private hospitals have been instructed to make the same number of beds available as in the second wave last year.

Mumbai’s strict covid-19 curbs

Assessing the effectiveness of complete lockdowns is tough. On one hand, the spread of the disease slows, but on the other, costs to livelihoods beget other crises. Plus, the backlash from traders doesn’t bode well for political support. India fought its debilitating second wave in April and May 2021 without a nationwide lockdown but cities and states made their own decisions. Despite its drawbacks, that seems to be the strategy this time, too.

Already, Mumbai has put in place several measures to deter large gatherings. A night curfew was introduced before Christmas. All new-year parties were banned. Schools for kids in years 1 to 9 have been closed until Jan. 31. College lectures and exams have moved online until Feb. 15. Theaters, gyms, and hotels are restricted to 50% capacity.

But the local train—the lifeline of the city that ferries 6.4 million passengers daily—will remain operational.

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