Covid-19: Religious places, gyms on Maharashtra priority list for unlocking, cinema halls may have to wait

The Maharashtra government is planning to open up more activities and the unlocking will be complete by the end of the November amid pressure from various fronts and sectors, despite the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.

The places of worship are also expected to be allowed to reopen over the next few weeks. The move is significant in the backdrop of a recent letter war between Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and chief minister Uddhav Thackeray. The main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), too, tried to muddy the waters by launching a state-wide protest demanding reopening of temples.

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The Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (mVA) coalition government, comprising the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress, has extended the Covid-19-induced lockdown restrictions in the state until October 31.

However, it has allowed four lakh restaurants, bars, and eateries to reopen from October 5.

It has permitted industries operating in the densely populated Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), a Covid-19 hotspot, to resume their commercial activities from early October.

Intercity and long-distance trains within Maharashtra have also been allowed and frequency of the suburban trains within MMR has been increased.

At present, the suburban trains, which are considered to be the lifeline of Mumbai, are still catering to frontline essential workers, who are busy battling the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the state government has yet to allow the reopening of schools, colleges and other educational institutions, cinema halls, swimming pools, auditoriums, and assembly halls.

Political, social, and cultural gatherings are still out of bounds, as part of the existing restrictions.

Maharashtra was among the first states in the country to enforce lockdown restrictions from March 14 ahead of the 68-day nationwide impositions that were imposed 11 days later.

State health and family welfare minister Rajesh Tope on Saturday had said that Maharashtra was planning to lift all lockdown restrictions by the end of November. “Barring a few, almost all the activities have been allowed as of now. Some of the activities will be thrown open by the end of October and the remaining by end-November,” he had said.

Though the central government has allowed cinema halls to reopen from October 15, the theatres and multiplexes in Maharashtra will still have to wait for some more time.

“Our priority is not theatres and multiplexes. Unlike other metropolises and cities, theatres and multiplexes in Mumbai are crowd-pullers and cannot be allowed to reopen immediately. We are thinking of reopening temples and gymnasiums. A decision to this effect is expected to be taken over the next few days,” said an official from Mantralaya, the state secretariat, requesting anonymity.

The state authorities are expecting a spike in Covid-19 cases following further easing of lockdown restrictions.

“The sequential surge due to these activities is expected by next week. Reviewing the situation on the expected surge, the decision over reopening of religious spaces is expected next week,” the official said.

CM Thackeray has announced that schools, colleges and other educational institutions would not be allowed to reopen until Diwali to be celebrated on November 14.

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