Mumbai, Dec 29 (PTI) Health remained a big area of concern for Maharashtra in 2020 as COVID-19 cast its long shadow on the state, which remained many times on top in the country in terms of daily cases and deaths due to the disease.
The first COVID-19 case in the state was reported on March 9.
Since then, the graph of infections and deaths continued its upward trajectory till hitting a peak in September, and showed a declining trend for the last two months.
The state's health infrastructure came under strain battling the surge in number of patients.
According to Maharashtra's Health Minister Rajesh Tope, the state capital Mumbai has an extensive domestic and international air connectivity, which resulted in a large number of people carrying the infection here, leading to its further spread locally.
'In March, the Centre initially gave a list of 11 countries, asking the staff to screen incoming passengers from these countries. This resulted in several infected people (from non-listed countries) escaping the screening and later infecting locals,' he said.
The Maharashtra government since March has been requesting the Centre to increase the number of screening staff at the Mumbai international airport and inclusion of more countries into the list, he said.
Another major issue which cropped up because of the coronavirus-induced lockdown was the huge migration of labourers from the state.
Since April, more than 10 lakh people have migrated from various parts of the state, mostly Mumbai, according to state officials.
In further problems for the state, hundreds of labourers, defying the social distancing norms, gathered outside the Bandra station in Mumbai on April 16, demanding that arrangements be made for them to return to their native places in the wake of the coronavirus-enforced lockdown.
In this context, a TV journalist was arrested for allegedly spreading misinformation with his report. He was later released.
In a similar incident on May 19, hundreds of migrant labourers gathered on an approach road to Bandra Terminus here on Tuesday before the departure of a Shramik Special train, leading to chaos in the area for some time.
'Since March 24, the state government was requesting the Centre to run special trains so that labourers could return home and feel safe. Unfortunately, it never responded positively and it escalated the crisis,' Tope had then said.
Amid the lockdown, hundreds of desperate labourers took any available mode of transport to reach their homes, and some were even forced to walk in the absence of a transport.
In a related tragic incident in May, at least 16 migrant workers sleeping on rail tracks while returning to Madhya Pradesh were crushed to death by a goods train at Aurangabad in Maharashtra.
With Maharashtra authorities persuading to convince people to maintain social distancing and carrying out tests, treatment and isolation of patients, the daily infection figures in the state rose to four digits on May 1, when the state reported 1,008 cases on a single day.
Between May and September, the state reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths due to it, as per official figures.
In June, Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Devendra Fadnavis accused the state government of not reporting around 1,000 COVID-19 deaths in the state.
'I had written a letter on June 15 after which state reported 950 deaths in Mumbai the very next day. The government later reported some more deaths, which took the number of deaths that were earlier unreported to 1,200 in Mumbai city alone,' he had said.
Another shocker came when the body of an elderly woman, who was missing from a COVID care centre in Jalgaon in June, was found in the hospital's washroom eight days later, pointing to negligence by authorities.
The state saw the worst COVID-19 period in August and September, when it added almost one lakh cases every week.
From October onwards, the number of daily cases started coming down.
According to a government official, steps like fever and cold clinics, tele-medicine facilities and roping in of private hospitals helped in bringing the numbers down.
'It helped the state to accommodate maximum patients with ready machinery for treatment. COVID-19 treatment centres were set up across the state,' a government official said.
The state government also slashed the prices of medicines used for treating COVID-19 patients.
'There was a surge in demand for these medicines and a lot of people paid extra cash to buy them. After receiving several complaints, the Food and Drug Administration raided several places to check the black-marketing of such medicines,' said FDA minister Rajendra Shingane.
In the last four months, the state brought down the prices six times and now Remdesivir is made available at Rs 700 per dose, Tope said.
But, still more needs to be done and there are various challenges, a senior health official said.
'The state has controlled spread of the virus locally, but there have been several incidents of people coming from outside testing positive on arrival,' he said.
'This is now a new headache for the state as we have to deploy a separate medical staff at railway stations and airports for test of and every passenger.
The medical staff is already overworked and under tremendous pressure. The reduction in the number of daily COVID-19 cases could have relaxed them.
'But, we have to now deploy some manpower at railway stations and airports to carry out virus detection tests.
Despite guidelines, nobody is travelling with COVID-19 negative test report,' the official said.
The state has now pinned its hope on vaccine which is expected to be available early next year.
'We are expecting around three crore people to undergo vaccination in the first round. These will comprise health workers, medical staff and frontline workers, including police personnel,' Tope said. PTI ND GK RSY RSY