Mumbai rush-hour traffic increases, concerns arise over social distancing

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Mumbai: Mumbaikars took to the streets on Monday morning in large numbers amid the Maharashtra government’s third phase of Mission Begin Again campaign.

The state government has undertaken a staggered plan from Monday onwards to unlock Maharashtra and has allowed private offices to operate with 10% of strength or 10 employees, whichever is more, and the rest of the staff to work from home.

The offices in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) reopened after almost three months, as they were shut because of the lockdown restrictions, which were enforced since mid-March to contain the spread of the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.

On Monday morning, office-going Mumbaikars could be seen trying to catch a Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) bus that resumed operations or a private taxi to their respective workplaces.

Long queues of office-goers could be seen at BEST bus stops amid concerns over the violation of social distancing norms, as Mumbai is bracing for 50,000 Covid-19 positive cases.

Mumbai Police’s traffic control room recorded moderate or dense traffic flow in many parts of the country’s financial hub.

The major arterial roads of Babasaheb Ambedkar Road in south and central Mumbai, LBS Road in the eastern suburbs, SV Road in the western suburbs, and freeways such as the Western Express Highway and the Eastern Expressway reported dense traffic. Toll plazas, which are the entry points into Mumbai such as in Navi Mumbai, Mulund, and Panvel, also reported heavy traffic.

The BEST authorities operated 2,132 buses on 81 routes on Monday morning. Passengers and BEST conductors have been asked to adhere to social distancing norms and 30 people are allowed to board a bus at one time, including 25 sitting and five standing.

However, a few passengers complained about BEST bus services that were either cancelled or delayed. “I work as a security guard and Monday was my first day to work since the lockdown. I waited for 40 minutes to board a bus from Ghatkopar to Mulund. The buses were delayed. There was no space in most of the buses,” said Akhlakh Khan, a Ghatkopar resident.

Though shops in Mumbai, except those in the containment zones, opened last Friday, shopkeepers are expecting better business activities from Monday.

Viren Shah, president, Federation of Retail Traders Welfare Association, said, “Many shops were either closed or were not working at full capacity last Friday, as a majority of staff couldn’t get to work due to lack of public transport facilities. We’ll have a better picture by this afternoon about how businesses are shaping up.”

Many essential workers and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) employees, who live in satellite towns in and around Mumbai such as Thane, Kalyan, Navi Mumbai, and Dombivali, used public transport on Monday morning to report to work instead of the special transport facilities that were being provided to them during the lockdown restrictions.

Suburban trains, Mumbai’s lifeline, are yet to resume their operations due to the pandemic.

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