Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray today announced a 15-day ban on large gatherings in the state from tomorrow to break the chain of infections, stressing that cases were “exploding dangerously” and “the war has begun again”, as he addressed people of the state on the unprecedented surge in Covid infections.

Thackeray said from tomorrow, Section 144, which bans gathering of more than four people, would be in place across Maharashtra and only essential travel would be allowed. He also said from 7 am to 8 pm, only essential services would function.

“Unnecessary travel should be stopped. Non-emergency travel should be stopped,” he said, adding that while he was not stopping public transport, trains and buses should be used only for essential travel. Services that will be allowed are medical, banks, media, e-commerce and fuel.

“Last year on Gudi Padwa we had hoped for a coronafree festival this year… But now the war has begun again. And this time the cases are exploding dangerously,” Thackeray said. Maharashtra had recorded 60,212 new cases and 281 Covid-19 deaths today, the Chief Minister said.

Thackeray requested the army’s help in tackling the oxygen and medicine shortage in the state.

“Now we have 1,200 MT production of oxygen and we are using it all for medical purposes. We are using it to the hilt. I told the PM (Prime Minister Narendra Modi), looking at the condition, that in the coming days we will need Oxygen,” he said.

“We are requesting the PM that instead of bringing oxygen by road, if we can take the military’s help and get it via air.” Thackeray said that while the state had postponed board exams, “we can’t postpone the exam we are giving currently and we have to pass this with flying colours.”

Speculation of a lockdown led to panic buying by people. Vegetable vendors and general stores selling fastmoving consumer goods saw higher buying from around 5.30 pm when the CM’s office informed of Uddhav’s virtual address on Tuesday. “There is no certainty about the length of a lockdown or how strictly will it be implemented. It is better to buy essentials,” said a harried shopper in the suburb of Thane.

Resort to Sec. 144:A Division Bench of Calcutta High Court Chief Justice TBN Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee today directed the West Bengal administration may, so far as possible, resort to the provisions of Section 144 of CrPC.

The Chief Electoral Officer, West Bengal may issue such further guidelines as he may deem necessary to check the spread of Covid-19 due to gathering and rallies. The matter was listed for next hearing on 19 April when the CEO will file an affidavit.

~With inputs from Agencies~