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How winter session of legislature, political weddings turned Covid ‘superspreaders’ in Mumbai

ThePrint independently confirmed 6 cases among Maharashtra’s ministers and 9 among the state’s MLAs, with some of them testing positive just in the last two days.

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Mumbai: The winter session of the Maharashtra legislature and at least five high-profile political weddings over the last couple of weeks are being seen as ‘superspreader’ events, as a number of the state’s politicians have caught Covid-19.

More than 50 journalists, police personnel, state government staffers, MLAs, and numerous ministers in the Uddhav Thackeray-led state cabinet have tested positive since the assembly session started on 22 December. It concluded on 28 December.

Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, speaking to reporters on 1 January, said at least 10 ministers and 20 MLAs had tested positive for Covid, although he did not name them.

ThePrint independently confirmed six cases among Maharashtra’s ministers and 10 among the state’s MLAs, with some of them being diagnosed only in the last two days.

The cabinet and junior ministers who have tested Covid positive include Varsha Gaikwad, Balasaheb Thorat, Yashomati Thakur, K.C. Padvi, Eknath Shinde and Prajakt Tanpure.

Among the MLAs who have tested positive for Covid during or after the winter session, many are from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). These include Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, Harshvardhan Patil, Madhuri Misal, Sameer Meghe, Vidya Thakur, and Atul Bhatkhalkar.

Several MLAs of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), the ruling coalition comprising the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the Congress, have also tested positive in this period. These include Rohit Pawar and Shekhar Nikam of the NCP, Dhiraj Deshmukh of the Congress, and Pratap Sarnaik of the Shiv Sena.

Shiv Sena MLA Bhaskar Jadhav told ThePrint that it was “surprising” that there were so many cases since all precautions had been followed.

“The number of Covid cases since the assembly session is surprising. In the assembly, RT-PCR reports of each and every person were checked very diligently before allowing them entry. Inside the two houses, we were sitting keeping social distancing in mind,” Jadhav said. He, however, added that it was “true that there were several high-profile weddings too during that period”.

Maharashtra has seen a large surge in Covid-19 cases over the last two weeks, with the active caseload jumping from 7,350 on 22 December to 52,422 on 3 January. Of the total active cases, 71 per cent are from Mumbai, according to the state government’s bulletin.

Also Read: India’s R steady at 0.94 but Maharashtra’s infection rate passes 1 — first time since September

Winter session ‘hotspot’

The winter session of the state legislature last month was the longest since the pandemic started in March 2020. Until now, the state government was only holding two-day sessions due to the pandemic.

A senior state government official who looks after legislative proceedings told ThePrint that all possible precautions had been taken.

“We insisted that every member who enters the Vidhan Bhavan should show a double vaccination certificate as well as a negative RT-PCR report. Since it was a five-day session, all those entering the building were asked for a fresh RT-PCR report after the third day,” the official said.

Several journalists, politicians, and bureaucrats who attended the session every day told ThePrint that the police personnel at the gate were thorough about these checks, with a case in point being how Shiv Sena leader Ramdas Kadam was held back at the gate.

State government sources said that Kadam did not have a valid RT-PCR report, but was trying to argue his way in. Eventually, Shiv Sena minister Eknath Shinde came to Kadam’s rescue and the leader was let in after a negative rapid antigen test.

An official told ThePrint that the government had set up a camp at Vidhan Bhavan for all MLAs, staffers, police personnel, and journalists and a total of 2,300 tests were conducted in the duration of the session. More than 50 of these were positive, the official said. “We had given MLAs the option of getting tested outside the assembly too, in their home towns, if they wished to,” he said.

Amid other precautions, there was an ultraviolet (UV) sanitiser at the entrance and inside both houses of the legislature. The upper and lower houses were both sanitised every day, half an hour before each session began.

However, journalists and MLAs who attended the session every day told ThePrint that not all leaders wore their masks correctly at all times, elevators ran full, and that there was no social distancing in the canteen. In the corridors outside the assembly, journalists would also crowd around ministers hoping to get a word on or off the record.

At one point of time, Deputy CM Ajit Pawar, who is known to be a stickler for adherence to Covid protocols, even pulled up Leader of the Opposition Devendra Fadnavis for not wearing a mask inside the lower house, while assembly proceedings were underway.

‘High-profile’ weddings

In the last week of December, there were at least five high-profile weddings in political households. These events were attended by many leaders across Maharashtra before, during, and after the assembly session. Photographs of these events indicate that protocols such as masking and social distancing were not strictly followed.

Among these functions was the wedding of NCP state president Jayant Patil’s son, which the BJP’s Harshvardhan Patil attended. Subsequently, Harshvardhan Patil too had a wedding in his house when his daughter got married to Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray’s grandson, Nihar. Two days after his daughter’s wedding, Harshvardhan Patil tested positive.

NCP MP Supriya Sule, who attended both weddings, also tested positive along with her husband last week.

Shiv Sena MLC Ravindra Phatak’s son, Shiv Sena MLA Udaysingh Rajput’s son, and former BJP MLA Shivajirao Kardile’s son also got married last week. The BJP’s Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil had attended the Kardile wedding along with senior BJP leaders such as Fadnavis, Chandrakant Patil, and Girish Mahajan before he tested positive. On Monday, Vikhe Patil’s MP son, Sujay Vikhe Patil, also tested Covid positive.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)

Also Read: Delhi imposes weekend curfew as Covid cases surge, but buses & Metro to run at full capacity


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