THE NEXT phase of lockdown, to kickstart from Monday, is likely to prune the list of prohibited activities further and allow states to decide on opening of malls and multiplexes, places of worship, and dine-in restaurants, The Indian Express has learnt.
The government may also consider relaxing night curfew hours based on suggestions from health experts. “It (decision to impose curfew from 7 pm to 7 am) is not exactly based on technical considerations of health. There is no harm if it is extended at least to 9 pm,” said an official.
However, based on suggestions from various states, strict curbs are likely to continue in containment zones, and “there will also be some restrictions in 13 key cities where the concentration of Covid-19 cases is very high”, an official said.
The new guidelines would include relaxations on visiting places of worship but “no religious event or gathering will be allowed”, the official said.
And while the Centre is in favour of easing inter-state movement further, any such opening would depend on how states assess the outbreak in their regions. An option that may be considered is to let the states decide it between themselves.
Metro services, however, may remain out of bounds due to the “centralised AC system” that could fuel the infection. Delhi is likely to reiterate the demand to resume Metro operations.
According to sources, the defining principle of restrictions post May 31 is likely to be the need to factor in the different trajectory of Covid-19 in different cities and states. “States will, however, have greater freedom in deciding on the opening of their economy and management of Covid-related issues,” an official said.
Sources said the Union Home Ministry is finalising the guidelines for the next phase after Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to Chief Ministers over the last 24 hours, and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi Friday.
On Thursday, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba had held a meeting with officials from all states on preparedness, with a special focus on 13 cities on the radar, including Mumbai, Chennai, New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Thane, Pune, Indore, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Chengalpattu and Thiruvallur.
States not facing an alarming spurt in cases are keen on stepping up financial activities and utilising the Centre’s economic package.
However, they said, the states are also united in their push to continue with curbs in inter-state transportation, malls and cinema halls, and educational institutions and places of worship.
During discussions with the Home Minister, sources said, the Chief Ministers were keen to open up more economic activities although states like Kerala and Maharashtra wanted many of the existing restrictions to stay.
Chhattisgarh communicated that inter-state travel and borders should be sealed, while Assam wanted to continue the night curfew. Jharkhand was of the view that more MSMEs, shops and other economic activities in industrial units should be activated.
Kerala, where the number of cases have shot up with the return of people from outside the state, is not keen on lifting restrictions on cinema halls, beaches, parks, inter-district transportation, etc.
“The Home Minister spoke to all chief ministers… the discussions largely focused on the road ahead. Also, part of the discussions were relaxations that would be required in the next phase of the lockdown to further open the economy,” a Home Ministry official said.
Karnataka has already written to the Centre for opening of malls and multiplexes from June 1 while Goa is planning to reopen hotels, restaurants, malls, eateries and gyms with 50 percent capacity next week.
The Delhi government is also likely to urge the Centre to allow reopening of shops inside malls on an odd-even basis. It also wants to limit the curfew hours and let activities continue till 9 pm, besides opening up of local places of worship.
“In Delhi, unlike Mumbai, the health infrastructure is not yet overwhelmed. Delhi has been reassuring, it has opened shops, public transport and metro. However, there is a need to evaluate the results of this opening up… There is usually a lag period of about two weeks before the effects show,” a Central government official explained.
Many states also nudged the Centre on relaxations for religious events, with multiple festivals scheduled in June and July. But the Centre’s new guidelines may put a shadow on big-ticket events like the iconic Rath Yatra in Odisha.
In its response, the Centre told states to keep track of doubling and fatality rates, and asked Telangana to improve its testing numbers.
“The Central government has already issued guidelines on management of Covid-19 in urban settlements. Highlights of this strategy include work on high risk factors, indices such as confirmation rate, fatality rate, doubling rate, tests per million people, etc,” the government said in a statement.
“The Centre has stressed that containment zones are to be geographically defined based on factors like mapping of cases and contacts and their geographical dispersion. This would enable in demarcating a well-defined perimeter and enforcing the strict protocol of lockdown. Municipal corporations can decide if residential colonies, mohallas, municipal wards or police station areas, municipal zones, towns can be designated as containment zones, as required,” it said.
Meanwhile, in a letter to states on Friday, Union health Secretary Preeti Sudan asked states to take care of all health needs of migrants.
“As few states have witnessed substantial influx of labourers from other parts of the country, the health systems at the cutting edge level should be prepared for addressing the health needs of this additional population, besides attending to the regular health needs or the service area population,” Sudan wrote in the letter to state principal secretaries health.
(With inputs from Dipankar Ghose, New Delhi)
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