The Centre on Sunday extended the Covid-19 lockdown for two more weeks till May 31 with relaxations that are likely to completely open the economy with operation of all markets, offices, industries and business along with plying of buses in all zones, barring containment.
Domestic and international flights and metro rail will remain out of bounds for general public even as shopping malls, cinema halls, schools, colleges, hotels and restaurants, and religious and political gatherings will continue to remain prohibited. Sports complexes and stadia will open, albeit without spectators.
“All other activities will be permitted, except those which are specifically prohibited,” the guidelines issued by Ministry of Home Affairs on the lockdown extension said. It is likely to open all services as well, including those of barber shops and spas. Follow coronavirus LIVE updates
Crucially, the government has allowed inter-state movement of buses and private vehicles with the consent of the involved states. The move will greatly ease public transportation and is likely to come to immediate help of migrant labour on the roads. The night curfew, between 7 pm and 7 am, will continue in all zones.
In the last lockdown guidelines, there were considerable restrictions in Red zones, which have a high number of Covid cases. These included ban on plying of buses even within the zone and operation of market complexes and many services, which involved close contact with customers.
With markets opening in Red zones, all liquor shops are also allowed to open giving much-needed revenue fillip to states. Consumption of liquor and paan shall remain prohibited in public places. Earlier, such shops were allowed to open in Red zones only if they were standalone.
Most importantly, the Centre has conceded to the demands of the states that they be given freedom to decide which part of their state shall be demarcated red, orange or green and how.
“The delineation of Red Green and Orange Zones will be decided by the respective State and UT Governments, after taking into consideration the parameters shared by Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW),” guidelines said. They added that within the red and orange zones, containment and buffer zones will be demarcated by the district authorities, after taking into consideration MoHFW guidelines.
Earlier, all these decisions were being taken by the Centre and notification on zones were issued from Delhi. Multiple states had said that they did not agree with Centre’s idea of demarcating the whole district as a red zone or orange zone or demarcating an entire municipal area as a hotspot. This, they had said, severely restricted their elbow room to kickstart the economy, particularly in entirely urban states such as Delhi.
It has, however, reiterated that states would have the freedom to make restriction stricter in any zone if they deem it necessary.
In the containment zones, the guidelines have said, only essential activities shall be allowed. “There shall be strict perimeter control to ensure that there is no movement of people in or out of these zones, except for medical emergencies and for maintaining supply of essential goods and services,” the guidelines have said.
In the containment Zones, there shall be intensive contact tracing, house-to-house surveillance, and other clinical interventions, as required, it has added.
Persons above 65 years of age, persons with co-morbidities, pregnant women, and children below the age of 10 years, shall stay at home, except for essential and health purposes, the guidelines have said.
Importantly, the guidelines have made a notable climbdown on use of Aarogya Setu app. While in the last guideline the Centre had made the use of Aarogya Setu app mandatory for employees in an office and put the onus of implementation on employers, the new guidelines have asked them to make “best efforts” in that direction. It has also exempted such people who do not have smartphones.
“Aarogya Setu enables early identification of potential risk of infection, and thus acts as a shield for individuals and the community. With a view to ensuring safety in offices and work places. employers on best effort basis should ensure that Aarogya Setu is installed by all employees having compatible mobile phones,” the guidelines have said.
In the backdrop of certain districts, such as Noida in Uttar Pradesh, making the download of the app mandatory for all, the guidelines have said, “District authorities may advise individuals to install the Aarogya Setu application on compatible mobile phones and regularly update their health status on the app. This will facilitate timely provision of medical attention to those individuals who are at risk.”
Taking cognisance of movement of doctors and paramedics being restricted by some states such as UP and Haryana, the guidelines have issued “Special directions to ensure movement of persons and goods in certain cases”.
“All States/ UTs shall allow inter-State and intra-State movement of medical professionals, nurses and para medical staff, sanitation persons and ambulances, without any restriction. All States/ UTs shall allow inter-State movement of all types of trucks including empty trucks,” the guidelines said.
In an order issued by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), which is headed by the Prime Minister, the government said, “Considering the fact that the lockdown measures need to be implemented for a further period in the country to contain the spread of COVID 19, NDMA …hereby directs the Ministries/ Departments of Government of India, State Governments and State Authorities to continue the lockdown measures up to 31st May, 2020.”
Indicating that greater relaxations were being allowed, the order said, “The Authority further directs NEC (National Executive Committee) to issue modifications in the guidelines as necessary, keeping in view the need to open up economic activities while containing the spread of COVID 19.”
The NEC is headed by Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla and is entrusted with issuing guidelines and periodic orders for Covid containment under the Disaster Management Act. Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba held a meeting with chief secretaries of all states in the evening to ensure smooth implementation of lockdown guidelines.
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