As the Maharashtra government on Monday declared a night curfew in municipal corporation areas, the Mumbai civic administration moved to enforce restrictions and make arrangements to quarantine air passengers arriving from Britain, where a new COVID-19 variant is spreading fast, and some other countries.

The state government has declared a night curfew in municipal corporation areas (cities) from December 22 to January 5 as a precautionary measure amid growing concerns over the new coronavirus variant spreading in Britain. As per the state government directive, a curfew between 11 pm and 6 am will be enforced in the financial capital till January 5, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) commissioner I S Chahal said at a press conference.

Chahal said essential services like vegetable and milk supply will remain unaffected during the night curfew but more than five people can not assemble at a place during the seven- hour-long period. “Night curfew was enforced in the city from March (when the lockdown was announced) to August as well. Night curfew is not a lockdown. There is a difference between a night curfew and a lockdown. In a lockdown, individuals cannot step out of their homes. In a curfew, more than five people cannot assemble outside during the specified hours,” he said.

The IAS officer said the government decision will put restrictions on Christmas and New Year celebrations in the metropolis which usually sees large gatherings and mingling of people on December 31 night. People were found violating COVID-19-related norms at pubs, night clubs and restaurants during recent raids, the civic chief said, adding that November-December is also a wedding season and there were complaints about 700 to 800 guests gathering at several marriages in violation of norms.

“We are taking these steps as this is not a normal New Year eve. We cannot celebrate as in the past,” he said, adding the authorities will take action against those found violating rules framed to curb the spread of COVID-19. As per the state government estimates, around 1,000 passengers are expected to arrive at the city airport by five flights from the UK till December 22 midnight, he said.

“Of the five, two flights will land tonight (Dec 21), other two tomorrow morning (Dec 22) and one more on tomorrow night. “Every passenger arriving in the five flights will be compulsorily quarantined. No passenger will be allowed to go home directly from the airport,” Chahal said.

Chahal said all of them will be compulsorily kept at institutional quarantine facilities, even if they do not have any COVID-19 symptoms, for seven days. They will be discharged if their RT-PCR tests, to be conducted on the 5th or 7th day of their quarantine period, came negative, the BMC chief said.

Passengers showing COVID-19-like symptoms will be admitted at the BMC-run Seven Hills Hospital at suburban Marol where 100 beds are reserved for them, he said.

Similarly, passengers landing in the city from West Asia and other European countries, excluding the UK, from December 23 morning will be compulsorily quarantined for seven days, Chahal said. Passengers with COVID-19-like symptoms will be sent to state-run GT Hospital, he said.

“We don’t want to mix them with Seven Hills Hospital patients. Hence, the entire GT Hospital has been earmarked for such symptomatic patients,” the city civic chief said. Air passengers hailing from Pune, Nagpur and other parts of the state will not be allowed to go home and they will have to stay in institutional quarantine even if they do not show any COVID-19 symptoms, he said.

Chahal said passengers arriving from the USA, South Asia and other countries will be stamped on their hands and put in home quarantine after undergoing RT-PCR tests at the airport. He said the civic body will give PPE kits to all immigration staff at the airport and the BMC has reserved 2,000 hotel rooms, including 1,000 in the budget category, to quarantine passengers arriving in the city.

According to Chahal, between February 1 and March 22, around 2 lakh people landed at the Mumbai airport and some of them were COVID-19 carriers who spread the infection in Mumbai and parts of Maharashtra. Hence, to avoid repetition of the past, these precautions are being taken, he said. 

Meanhwile, hotel owners have urged the Maharashtra government to relook at its decision of imposing night curfew to curb COVID-19 infections, saying such a move will result in high revenue losses for the already battered industry. Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India’s (FHRAI) Vice President Gurbaxish Singh Kohli said people have started to move around, and will prefer to go outside Maharashtra for the celebrations.

Kohli termed this decision “too harsh” as this is the brisk business season for the food and beverages industry because people gather up to celebrate. “There will be tremendous revenue losses for us. We are already battered by the lockdowns and the curfews which existed during the various phases of unlocking. Rather than being sympathetic towards us, the government has done the opposite,” he told PTI.

He said the lobby grouping will be writing to the government to have a relook at its decision and ensure that the citizens also get a chance to celebrate by responsibly following all the COVID-19 norms.

The government should allow hotels and restaurants to be open till 0130 AM rather than 11 PM, he said, accepting that the 5 AM deadline for such establishments followed every year may not? be feasible this year. It will be very difficult for the government to enforce such a move as well, he said, pointing out that the state machinery is already very stretched.

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