As the lockdown that gradually started from last Sunday entered the second week, the government indicated it was not going to deviate from this containment and mitigation strategy against coronavirus, despite initial hiccups through the week.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday underlined that this was the only way to fight COVID-19, the Home Ministry directed states to ensure effective sealing of the borders. The Defence Minister chaired a meeting of an informal Group of Ministers to take stock of the situation. The ministers were told that supply of a minimum 10 days’ essential goods was being maintained.
The Union Home Ministry said that in an order under the Disaster Management Act, “Directions were issued that district and state borders should be effectively sealed. States were directed to ensure there is no movement of people across cities or on highways.” Only goods movement should be allowed, it said, adding that district magistrates and police superintendents would be personally responsible for implementation of these directions.
The Centre also asked states and Union Territories to make adequate arrangements for the poor, including migrant labourers at their place of work. State Disaster Relief Funds are to be used for the purpose, with the Centre saying “sufficient” money was available under this head.
Following the Centre’s order on Sunday, several states, including Delhi, announced that they were stopping movement across borders.
The advisory called for enforcement of 14-day quarantine for those travelling in the lockdown, saying, “The migrant people, who have moved out to reach their home states/home towns, must be kept in the nearest shelter (in) the respective State/Union Territory Government quarantine facilities after proper screening, for a minimum period of 14 days.”
Earlier, the Centre had said landlords should not charge labourers or students during this period or evict them, warning of action. Sunday’s advisory said, “States have been told to ensure timely payment of wages to labourers at their place of work during the period of lockdown without any cut… All the employers, be it in the industry or in shops and commercial establishments, shall make payment (to) their workers, at their work places… without any deduction, for the period their establishments are under closure.”
Ministry of Health Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal again emphasised the need for a complete lockdown for desired results against coronavirus. “If one person in one district does not follow instructions, we are back to the same situation,” he said, during the daily briefing.
Sidestepping a question on whether the movement of migrants had caught the government unawares, he said, “This is an unprecedented situation. A flood or an earthquake affects only one part of the country at one time. But this is something that affects the whole country at the same time. We seek your support in this.”
Agarwal added that the same quarantine protocol as in place for those returning from foreign countries in the early days will apply to the migrant labourers coming home. “According to their contact history and other details, they will have to stay in home quarantine for 14 days or in a facility quarantine if it is so required.”
Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba and Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla held video conferences with chief secretaries and police chiefs of states on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. “It was noted that, by and large, there has been effective implementation of guidelines across all states and Union territories,” the government said.
Delhi Police Commissioner S N Srivastava instructed personnel not to let people leave the Capital, enhancing picket deployment and stopping all buses, after the Centre’s advisory. Uttarakhand withdrew a decision to open inter-district transport on March 31 to allow those stranded to get home.
Uttar Pradesh has sent nodal officers to several states, including the Northeast, to convince migrant workers to stay where they are. Nearly one lakh people who have arrived in the state over the last few days have been asked to remain in home quarantine.
Haryana directed deputy commissioners to completely seal all inter and intra-state borders.
For the second time in two days, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan sought the PM’s intervention to ensure vehicles carrying essential commodities were not blocked by neighbouring Karnataka. He also said it was “incorrect” to portray certain districts in the state as “highly affected”.
Karnataka had earlier blocked the roads next to the North Kerala districts of Kaaragod and Kannur, which have so far reported more than half of the state’s 202 coronavirus cases. On Sunday, Karnataka did not let in an ambulance from Kasaragod to Mangaluru, allegedly leading to the death of a patient.
Vijayan’s office said he talked to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who called at the behest of the PM.
The group of ministers that reviewed the situation Sunday expressed concern over the movement of migrant labourers and their gathering at state borders. Those present at the meeting included Rajnath Singh, Shah, Ram Vilas Paswan, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Prakash Javadekar, Hardeep Singh Puri, Narendra Singh Tomar and Smriti Irani. They were told that the supply of essential commodities was “satisfactory”.
The empowered group of officers will deal with issues such as medical emergency management, testing and quarantine facilities, augmenting of human resources and capacity building, facilitating supply chains, coordination with private sector and NGOs, economic and welfare measures, public awareness, data management, and strategic issues relating to the lockdown.
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