Mumbai: Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar on Friday said he has instructed administrations in the state to take strict action against people who are found without masks in public amid the rising COVID-19 cases in state. Speaking to mediapersons at Shivneri Fort after an event, Pawar said district administrations have been authorised to assess the situation in their respective districts and impose a lockdown from 6 AM to 6 PM, if the situation demands.Also Read - Mumbai Sees 28% Decline in New COVID Cases; Positivity Rate Drops to 7%

“I am going to chair a meeting on February 21 in Pune to discuss measures to contain the viral spread,” the deputy chief minister said. A spike in COVID-19 cases witnessed in some districts of the state is a matter of concern, he said. Also Read - Pune Schools Reopening: Will Physical Classes in Pune Schools Resume Next Week? Here's What Maharashtra Dy CM Ajit Pawar Said

“In some cases, the local administrations of such districts have been authorised to impose lockdowns from 6 AM to 6 PM if the situation demands,” he said. Moreover, local authorities have been asked to take strict action against those who do not wear masks in public, Pawar said. Also Read - Fire At Mumbai High-Rise: Rescue Operation Underway, PM Modi Announces Compensation | Key Points

Speaking at an event organised to celebrate Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s birth anniversary at the fort, Pawar said he is thankful to people of the state for responding to the government’s appeal to celebrate Shiv Jayanti and other festivals in a simple manner in the last one year. “If Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj had been there, he too would not have taken any decision that could endanger the lives of people,” he said.

As on Thursday, Maharashtra had a caseload of 20,81,520, including 51,669 deaths.

NCP ministers postpone ‘janta darbars’

Redressal meets for citizens, popularly known as ‘janta darbars’, of NCP ministers in Maharashtra have been postponed for two weeks in view of a surge in COVID-19 cases in the past few days, the party said on Friday. In a statement, the NCP said people can email their problems to during this period.

Incidentally, two of the NCP’s ministers, Jayant Patil and Rajesh Tope, had, on Thursday, announced that they had tested positive for coronavirus. Such janta darbars were being held by the party since August last year.

Thane officials meet to assess situation

Civic and police officials in Thane held a meeting on Friday to assess the COVID-19 situation in view of the surge in cases in some parts of Maharashtra, especially Vidarbha. Officials said the meeting was chaired by Thane Municipal Commissioner Vipin Sharma who directed all departments to ensure COVID care facilities that had been used during the height of the outbreak can be reactivated as soon as the situation warrants.

Thane added 506 COVID-19 cases on Thursday and its overall tally currently stands at 2,59,125, while the death toll is 6,219.

Sharma said the positivity rate in the city had jumped from 2.5 per cent earlier to around 5 per cent in the past couple of days, but added there were enough number of beds, ventilators, etc to tackle a surge. He, however, refused to speak about the possibility of a lockdown in the city due to the spike in cases and called such talk “premature”.

Amravati surge due to mutation, people’s carelessness: Official

A spike in COVID-19 cases in Amravati district of eastern Maharashtra could be because of a coronavirus mutation which is more infectious, but people’s carelessness is the bigger reason, a senior health official said on Friday. Amravati has witnessed the sharpest spike in cases in the state this week. The number of new cases in the district jumped from 82 on Tuesday to 230 on Wednesday.

Dr Subhash Salunke, technical adviser to the Maharashtra government on the COVID-19 outbreak, said those with comorbidities are at a greater risk due to a virus mutation found in samples from the district.

“The mutated virus is more infectious and triggering pneumonia early. If a person has pre-existing health conditions, such type of infection could increase the risk of death. However, it is only a possibility, and the district so far has not reported any spike in death toll,” he said.

Dr Salunke, however, also said that “complete carelessness” on people’s part was the main reason for the spike. In many cases, people from the same family have tested positive, he noted.

“This means they are exposed to infection during the same period. It could happen only at some public function, gathering, etc, where COVID-19 protocols has been ignored,” he said. The state government was focusing on contact tracing and increase in RT-PCR tests to tackle the surge in cases, he added.

On Thursday, an official had said that researchers had found two new mutations in coronavirus samples from Amravati and Yavatmal districts of eastern Maharashtra after genome sequencing. These mutations were characterized by the virus’ ability to escape neutralizing antibodies in the host person’s body, said Dr Rajesh Karyekarte, head of the Department of Microbiology at the state-run B J Medical College in Pune.

(With inputs from PTI)