Nagpur in western India is to be the first major city in the country to return to a complete lockdown amid a sharp spike in coronavirus cases. The week-long lockdown, which starts on 15 March, will extend to adjoining areas of the district as well.
Maharashtra state, where Nagpur is located, has always been a Covid hotspot, with the highest number of active and confirmed cases in India. The country has recorded more than 11 million cases and 157,000 deaths so far.
Caseloads have declined sharply in recent months across the country, but six states, including Maharashtra, have been reporting a fresh surge. Amaravati district, also in Maharashtra, was put under a week-long complete lockdown in February due to a spike in cases.
Scientists fear that new variants could be one of the reasons for the uptick in the state. The other is laxity in following Covid-19 safety protocols. Lack of masking and social distancing, and poor test and trace has all added to the spike in Maharashtra, Dr Sanjay Oak, a member of the state's Covid task force, said recently.
This comes early on in India's vaccination drive, which began in January. More than 20 million people have been given at least one dose of a Covid vaccine so far. The drive will continue in Nagpur as planned, state cabinet minister Nitin Raut said. "Except for 25% attendance in government offices and industries, all other establishments and non-essential shops will remain closed," he added.
Essential services such as hospitals and grocery shops will remain open. While restaurants will be shut, home delivery will be permitted. Police have been ordered to impose a strict curfew. The Maharashtra state government is also watching four other districts that, along with Nagpur district, are contributing to more than half of Maharashtra's current active caseload of 106,070.
"We will take a decision in the next two days and the lockdown will be imposed wherever required," Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said. Nagpur district has been reporting more than 1,000 cases daily for nearly two weeks now - and it added more than 2,000 cases in the last 24 hours.
Among the districts, it currently has the country's second-highest active caseload - 13,800. Pune, also a district in Maharashtra, is at the top with more than 21, 200 active infections.