In view of rising Covid cases across the country, the Centre on Tuesday issued fresh containment guidelines, giving states some crucial elbow room to put restrictions on public movement and gatherings.
The new guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) have allowed states to enforce night curfews, put any number of “local restrictions”, keep gatherings at social events to less than 100, punish people for not wearing masks and even issue orders for local lockdowns with the Centre’s approval.
“States and UTs, based on their assessment of the situation, may impose local restrictions with a view to contain the spread of Covid-19 such as night curfew.
However, State/UT Governments shall not impose any local lockdown (state/ district/ sub-division/ city level) outside the containment zones without prior consultation with the Central Government,” guidelines issued by the MHA said.
Through its guidelines issued on July 29, the Centre had removed nationwide night curfew. Through five un-lock guidelines, the Centre had also removed most of the restrictions on public movement and activity, barring international travel by air and use of swimming pools for recreational activity. Social/political/religious gatherings had been allowed up to a ceiling of 200 persons in a closed space.
With the fresh set of guidelines, the Centre has now given states the freedom to put any kind of restriction that they deem fit as long as they do not hinder inter-state movement of goods and public.
It has, however, reiterated that states cannot seal borders. “There shall be no restriction on inter-State and intra-State movement of persons and goods including those for cross land-border trade under Treaties with neighbouring countries. No separate permission/ approval/ e-permit will be required for such movements,” the guidelines have said.
The guidelines have reiterated the restrictions imposed and relaxations given in the last lockdown guidelines but given the freedom to states to restrict public gatherings.
“Social/ religious/ sports/ entertainment/ educational/ cultural/ religious gatherings, with up to a maximum of 50 percent of the hall capacity, with a ceiling of 200 persons in closed spaces; and keeping of the size of the ground/ space in view, in open spaces (is permitted). However, based on their assessment of the situation, State/ UT Governments may reduce the ceiling to 100 persons or less, in closed spaces,” the guidelines have said.
Several states have already proposed to put such restrictions, with Delhi government even issuing orders to restrict gatherings at weddings to less than 100. States such as Maharashtra have also started putting restrictions on those coming from outside the state, seeking negative RT-PCR test results.
The Centre has also flagged offices as spaces for spread of the coronavirus and asked states to stagger office timings.
For containment zones, the guidelines have issued detailed instructions. Along with strict perimeter control and allowing essential activities within them, the Centre has asked states to focus on contact tracing and trace all contacts of a Covid positive person within 72 hours.
“Though contact tracing was always part of the process, in some states this is not being done with the rigour that it requires. That is why this matter had to be emphasised,” a home ministry official said.
“There shall be intensive house-to-house surveillance… Testing shall be carried out as per prescribed protocol. Listing of contacts shall be carried out in respect of all persons found positive, along with their tracking, identification, quarantine and follow up of contacts for 14 days (80 per cent of contacts to be traced in 72 hours). Quick isolation of COVID-19 patients shall be ensured in treatment facilities/ home (subject to fulfilling the home isolation guidelines).Clinical interventions, as prescribed, shall be administered. Surveillance for ILI/ SARI cases shall be carried out in health facilities or outreach mobile units or through fever clinics in buffer zones,” the guidelines have said.
The Centre has also emphasised promotion of appropriate Covid behaviour. “In order to enforce the core requirement of wearing of face masks, States and UTs may consider administrative actions, including imposition of appropriate fines on persons not wearing face masks in public and work spaces,” the guidelines said.
They added that for observance of social distancing in crowded places, especially in markets, weekly bazaars and public transport, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) will issue a SOP, which will have to be strictly enforced by states and UTs.x