Social distancing: Uddhav Thackeray, health minister walk the talk

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The CMO promptly after consultation with reporters, decided to take briefings online. (File)

On Tuesday morning, a message went out on reporters' whatsapp groups about a press conference by Maharashtra's Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, who was in the Mumbai to review the imposition of the curfew. Within minutes the minister's PRO was flooded with calls from reporters asking to cancel the press conference as it was becoming difficult for the media to practise social distancing while covering press briefings of the government. The reporters were assured that no press conference would be conducted. The home minister's visit to the Bandra police station which had seized masks was then filmed and put up on Twitter by the Mumbai police.

The realisation that live media conferences could end up being a potential hazard, gained momentum after a picture of a press briefing by Chief Minister Udddhav Thackeray on the steps of Sahyadri, the state guest house, clicked by a television journalist went viral on March 17. Authorities, police officials, cameramen and reporters were seen jostling ironically on a day the Chief Minister first spoke of social distancing. The CMO promptly after consultation with reporters, decided to take briefings online. Since then Thackeray has only addressed the state via live streaming.

In-person media briefings by Public Health Minister, Rajesh Tope, however continued till Monday, although very few reporters turned up daily at his bungalow. But now even he has started live streaming addresses, suspending live media conferences. "The state government has launched the Meech Maaja Rakshak (I'm my own saviour) campaign to advocate social distancing, and I wish to set my own example by practicing it vehemently," said Tope, on Monday.

The Raj Bhawan, too, has cancelled all its programmes except the new Chief Justice's swearing in last week, where chairs were kept at safe distances in a bid to enforce social distancing.

Government officials and ministers had already been instructed to not conduct meetings unless imperative, via a GR. But a senior minister faced flak for flouting the rule, the very next day. For unavoidable meetings, the CMO has instructed officials to place chairs at one meter distance. A guardian minister of a Vidarbha district had invited the Chief Minister's wrath for travelling from Mumbai to the district for an official meeting, despite strict instructions that such meetings could be undertaken via video conferencing. With the Mantralaya staff down to a bare minimum of 5% and visitors' entry restricted, the premises wore an abandoned look on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Tope made another emotional apppeal to citizens to observe social distancing norms and stay indoors to combat the virus.

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