With the Centre announcing a two-week extension in the lockdown, while giving considerable relaxations from May 4 in areas designated green zones, several states on Saturday sought a reclassification. While Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal Saturday said that only containment zones, and not entire districts, should be declared red zones, and economic activity started in other areas, Karnataka said it wanted clarity on the zones and West Bengal differed on the number of red zones listed in the state.
Speaking to TV news channel Aaj Tak, Kejriwal played down the threat posed by coronavirus and said “it is time to restart the economy”. “If a district has 50 villages, for example, and 40 cases emerge in one, why should the entire district be declared a red zone? The village should be declared a containment zone and sealed off and others should not have to pay the price,” he said.
All 11 districts in Delhi are currently red zones under the Centre’s definition, which covers any district with more than 10 cases.
Referring to this, Kejriwal said, “Mera iss baat pe Centre se thoda matbhed hai (I have a difference of opinion with the Centre over this). I was hoping only containment zones will fall under (red zone) category. I am talking to the Centre about it.
I believe we should open areas other than containment zones for economic activity… Make the conditions for declaring an area a containment zone more stringent, implement the odd-even system in markets if it helps, but it is time to restart the economy,” he said.
The Capital has 96 containment zones at the moment, ranging from streets to blocks to neighbourhoods, where movement is entirely restricted and essentials are delivered on the doorstep. Over five lakh people stay in these zones.
Of Delhi’s 4,122 coronavirus cases, including 384 on Saturday, 1,256 have recovered, 72 remain in ICU while 64 have died. The doubling rate in the Capital is 11.3 days, more than the national average of 11 days.
Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa held a meeting on easing of the lockdown Saturday, after which Revenue Minister R Ashoka said they would write to the Centre for clarity as the state’s own list of districts in red zones differed from the Centre’s.
The Union Health Ministry, which revises its zoning every Monday, has designated three districts in Karnataka as red zones, including Bengaluru Rural, which has no active coronavirus cases, apart from Bengaluru Urban and Mysuru. Incidentally, Karnataka’s own zoning, as of April 28, listed eight red zones.
Ashoka said, “There are no cases in Bengaluru Rural. So we will write to the Centre not to include it among red zones.” Education Minister S Suresh Kumar said, “Even though Bangalore Urban is a red zone, all areas other than containment zones in the city will not have restrictions. The red zone is actually only areas which are containment zones.”
The Centre has allowed states to restructure red and orange zones, according to distribution of cases. Its guidelines say that if a district is a red zone but, barring its municipal areas, it has not seen any case in 21 days, the state may declare areas outside the municipal limits as orange. Similarly, orange zone districts could classify such areas as green.
Many districts, in fact, have been declared red or orange because their municipalities, with a higher density of population, have high cases. “This kind of classification will open more areas in an affected district for economic activity,” a Home Ministry official said.
In West Bengal, the classification of zones has added to the running battle between the state and Centre on handling of coronavirus. While the Union Health Ministry listed 10 districts as red zones in West Bengal, the state government insists the count should be four.
In a letter to Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan on April 30, Bengal Health Secretary Vivek Kumar called the Centre’s assessment “erroneous”, adding, “Based on the current parameters of Government of India for categorization of areas for COVID-19, the districts in the red zone are only four, Kolkata, Howrah, North 24 Parganas and Purba Midnapore.”
In his remarks, Kejriwal admitted that Delhi was bleeding on account of the lockdown. This April, it collected Rs 323 crore in taxes, compared to Rs 3,566 crore the same time last year. “We have no revenues at all now. Tax collections are very low. How will we pay salaries? If we start economic activity… migrants who are leaving the city will also stay back… If they all leave, how will we bring them back? The Centre will have to help the states… but even they can’t do too much. Even their tax collections have dipped. The only way is to restart economic activity,” he said.
A Karnataka minister said that while they were “happy to go with the Centre’s red zones”, “The fewer the red zones, the happier we will be.” Earlier, on April 28, the state had eased the lockdown, classifying its districts into eight red zones, eight orange zones and 14 green zones. The Centre has listed three red zones, 13 orange zones and 14 green zones in Karnataka.
On the pandemic, Kejriwal said, “We have to learn to live with coronavirus. It is not going anywhere. The districts that are green right now will also turn red. We have to manage it and do two things — stop the spread by testing more and more people. In Delhi, the testing figures per million are the highest. The second is to stop people from dying.
We need to have a healthcare system where people are taken care of. We have to look at readiness, not the number of cases. If the area is ready to deal with increased cases, it should be opened… We have dealt with dengue as well. People fall ill, recover… People will not be scared if the death rate is controlled.”
With Gujarat’s cases and death toll both continuing to rise, CM Vijay Rupani too insisted on Saturday that the numbers were not alarming. Speaking to Aaj Tak, he said, “In 2015, Gujarat was faced with swine flu and in a single month of January, 368 people had died. Coronavirus does not cause death but it is highly infectious, which is the concerning aspect… We are not panicking over our numbers.”