The Union government has said the COVID-19 situation is "especially serious" in Mumbai, Pune, Indore, Jaipur, Kolkata and a few other places in West Bengal, and warned that violation of lockdown measures risks the spread of the novel coronavirus further.
The death toll due to COVID-19 rose to 543 and the number of cases climbed to 17,265 in the country on Monday, according to the Union health ministry.
Acting swiftly, the Union Home Ministry also announced that six inter-ministerial central teams (IMCTs) will visit these identified areas in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Rajasthan within the next three days to make on-the-spot assessment and recommend remedial measures in a report to the Centre.
The tally of coronavirus cases crossed the 3,000-mark in Mumbai on Monday after 155 more people tested positive, while the death toll rose to 138 with the virus killing seven more patients here, the city civic body said. According to a BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) release, the number of COVID-19 cases now stood at 3,090.
The spurt in cases has raised concerns among authorities about the pace of the coronavirus spread as 1,000 new cases were added in just four days.
In identical orders issued to the four states on Sunday, the home ministry said there have been several incidents of violence against COVID-19 front-line healthcare professionals, complete violation of social distancing norms and movement of vehicles in urban areas.
Reacting to the development, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the basis on which the Centre has proposed to deploy its teams was "unclear" and added "we would not be able to move ahead on this as without valid reasons this might not be consistent with the spirit of federalism".
The home ministry said in some districts, a number of violations to the lockdown measures have been reported, posing a serious health hazard and risk for spread of COVID-19 which include attacks on frontline healthcare professionals, complete violations of social distancing norms outside banks, PDS shops and in market places, movement of private and commercial vehicles with passengers in urban areas and so on.
These incidents, if they are allowed to occur without any restraining measures in hotspot districts or emerging hotspots, with large outbreaks or clusters, pose a serious health hazard, both for the population of these districts and for that living in other areas of the country, it said.After analysing the prevalence of such violations in major hotspot districts, it is clear to the central government that the situation is "especially serious" in Mumbai and Pune (Maharashtra), Indore (Madhya Pradesh), Jaipur (Rajasthan), Kolkata, Howrah, East Medinipur, North 24 Parganas, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Jalpaiguri ( West Bengal), the home ministry said.
There are 4,203 confirmed coronavirus cases in Maharashtra of which 223 people lost their lives, according to Union health ministry data.
In Madhya Pradesh, out of the 1,407 cases, 70 people have succumbed to the disease.
Rajasthan has reported 1,478 cases of which 14 people lost their lives. In West Bengal, there are 339 confirmed cases of which 12 people died due to the infection, according to health ministry data.
After the government announced its decision, the West Bengal chief minister tweeted, "We welcome all constructive support & suggestions, especially from the Central Govt in negating the #Covid19 crisis. However, the basis on which Centre is proposing to deploy IMCTs in select districts across India including few in WB under Disaster Mgmt Act 2005 is unclear."
"I urge both Honb'le Prime Minister @NarendraModi Ji & Home Minister @AmitShah Ji to share the criterion used for this. Until then I am afraid, we would not be able to move ahead on this as without valid reasons this might not be consistent with the spirit of federalism," she added.
The orders, signed by Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, in his capacity as the chairperson of the National Executive Committee under the Disaster Management Act, also said the six inter-ministerial central teams will visit these hotspot areas and make on-spot assessment of the COVID-19 situation in these places and issue necessary directions to the four states.
The teams, comprising five members each, will be headed by an Additional Secretary-rank officer of the central government.
The six teams will make on-the-spot assessment of the situation, issue necessary directions to the state authorities for redressal of the situation, and submit their report to the central government in larger interest of general public.
The IMCTs will focus their assessment on the compliance and implementation of lockdown measures besides issues like the supply of essential commodities, social distancing, hospital facility and sample statistics in the district, safety of health professionals, availability of test kits, PPEs, masks and other safety equipment, and conditions of the relief camps for labour and poor people.
The orders also made it clear that the Ministry of Civil Aviation will provide air transportation, to and fro, from New Delhi to their respective place of visit (nearest airport), as their deployment is for an essential purpose of ensuring compliance to the lockdown measures.
The state governments will have to provide logistic support to the IMCT, for their accommodation, transportation, PPEs and extend all cooperation for their visits to local areas, production of documents and records as requested by the IMCTs.
There have been several incidents of attacks on healthcare workers and police by some people in different parts of the country, including Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, leading to injuries to doctors, paramedics and police personnel.
The lockdown was first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 in a bid to combat the coronavirus pandemic. It was further extended till May 3.
Meanwhile,describing the effectiveness of the lockdown in containing the spread of novel coronavirus, Lav Agarwal today said the doubling rate of covid cases has slowed down from 3.4 days before lockdown to 7.5 days.
"Based on the last seven days, India's doubling rate has improved to 7.5%," joint secretary health ministry said addressing presspersons. As per data on April 19, in 18 states, the rate is better than the national average, added Agarwal.
After Mahe in Puducherry and Kodagu in Karnataka, Pauri Garhwal in Uttarakhand becomes the third district to not report any case in the last 28 days. The number of districts where no case has been reported in last 14 days has increased to 59. Goa is now COVID-19 free, said Agarwal.