In its first clear message that the lockdown is being unwound, the Centre on Saturday issued ‘Unlock 1’ guidelines allowing a phased re-opening of most activities across the country, and limiting the lockdown only to containment zones for a month till June 30. It also cut the night curfew hours from 9 pm to 5 am (7 pm to 7 am till now).
Not only do the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) allow re-opening of malls, hotels, restaurants and places of worship from June 8 in Phase I of unwinding, they also allow unfettered movement of goods and persons between states and within states.
States have, however, been given the freedom to prohibit certain activities or put suitable restrictions if they deem it necessary for containment of the Covid outbreak. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare will issue standard operating procedures for all these activities which are now being permitted.
The guidelines said schools, colleges, educational/ training/ coaching institutions would be re-opened in consultation with states and Union Territories in Phase II. It has suggested states may, in turn, hold consultations at the institution level with parents and other stakeholders and provide feedback to the Centre. “…a decision on the reopening of these institutions will be taken in the month of July 2020,” the guidelines said.
Some activities will continue to remain prohibited, though. These include international air travel of passengers; operation of Metro Rail; cinema halls, gymnasiums, swimming pools, entertainment parks, theatres, bars and auditoriums, assembly halls and similar places; and, social/ political/ sports/ entertainment/ academic/ cultural/ religious functions/ and other large congregations. “In Phase III, dates for their opening will be decided based on assessment of the situation,” the guidelines said.
The Indian Express had on Saturday reported that malls, restaurants and religious places would open along with relaxation in night curfew in the new guidelines.
Clearly, the spirit of the new phase suggests in how the MHA chose to describe it. The order is called “Guidelines for Phased Re-opening (Unlock 1)” and signed by Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla. Further, it extends the lockdown only in containment zones up to June 30, and “reopens prohibited activities in a phased manner in areas outside of containment zones.”
The attached guidelines reiterated this saying, “All activities that were prohibited earlier will be opened up in areas outside Containment Zones in a phased manner, with the stipulation of following Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), to be prescribed by the Health Ministry.”
“(The) Health Ministry will issue SOPs for the above activities, in consultation with the Central Ministries/ Departments concerned and other stakeholders, for ensuring social distancing and to contain the spread of COVID-19,” it said.
There will be strict lockdown in containment zones though. “These will be demarcated by the State/ UT Governments, after taking into consideration the guidelines issued by the Health Ministry. Within the containment zones, strict perimeter control shall be maintained and only essential activities allowed,” the guidelines said.
States have been given freedom to also decide on buffer zones, areas abutting containment zones, and the restrictions necessary in such areas.
Allowing inter-state and intra-state movement of persons and goods, the MHA guidelines noted that no separate permission/ approval/ e-permit would be required for such movements. It has however given states the freedom to decide on public movement saying “if a State/ UT, based on reasons of public health and its assessment of the situation, proposes to regulate movement of persons, it will give wide publicity in advance regarding the restrictions to be placed on such movement, and the related procedures to be followed.”
It has also advised the elderly, pregnant women, and children to stay home even as it has suggested people increasingly use the Aarogya Setu App.
Despite all relaxations, the directions for management of Covid and public behaviour remain the same as in previous lockdowns. People are expected to use face masks, maintain social distancing, exercise personal hygiene. Spitting and consumption of alcohol and tobacco in public places remains punishable. At workplaces, the MHA has asked companies to encourage work from home, sanitise premises regularly, have staggered work hours and mandatorily do thermal scanning.
The standard operating procedure for evacuation of Indians stranded abroad, movement of migrants on shramik special trains and of passenger trains, operation of domestic flights, movement of foreign nationals and of seafarers will remain in force as earlier.
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