As states prepare for a staggered exit from the second phase of the lockdown that ends May 3, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to ask them not to let their guard down in the fight against COVID-19 in a video conference Monday morning with all chief ministers. This will be his fourth such meeting with state CMs since March 22 when he first spoke with them before announcing a nationwide lockdown on March 24.
Four key demands are likely to be made by states in the Monday meeting: special trains to transport migrant workers to their home states, permission to allow more economic activities in non-hotspots, financial resources to support small businesses and the vulnerable, and additional testing kits, ventilators and personal protective equipment.
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A day before the meeting, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot told The Indian Express that the nation-wide lockdown should be modified and economic activities allowed in non-hotspots. “There was some relaxation for industries and shops… That is fine, but more activities should begin because the revenue of states has become zero. When there is no revenue, how will states work?” he said.
Less than a week back, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel too had written to the Prime Minister seeking permission to let sweet shops, vehicle and electronic showrooms, repair shops, and retail activities commence operations. He had also demanded funds to the tune of Rs 30,000 crore to support poor and needy families with no means of income.
State government sources in Maharashtra said Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is likely to demand arrangement of special trains to transport migrant workers to their home states. They said the state has initiated preliminary preparations for transportation of migrants by buses if trains were not permitted. While Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani is likely to present the way forward for his state after May 3, Punjab CM Amarinder Singh is expected to reiterate his demand for a special financial package, and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee is likely to demand the release of past dues to the state and seek additional testing kits.
In another meeting with chief secretaries of all states on Sunday, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba reviewed the preparedness of states. “A presentation was made outlining the projected scale of the challenge at hand, especially since the current stringent lockdown cannot possibly go on for an indefinite period given its huge economic cost,” said an official who was part of the meeting.
On Sunday, the country registered the highest daily increase of 1,945 cases, taking the total number of positive cases to 26,917, as per data released by the health ministry. The number of deaths touched 826, with 47 in the last 24 hours. A total of 5,913 people have recovered from the disease.
Making a summary projection during the meeting with state chief secretaries, the Central government projected India to record 65,000 COVID-19 cases by May 15. At the present doublling rate of 10-12 days, it said the number of cases could reach 2.74 crore cases by August 15. “By June end we could be headed for one lakh cases a day, according to the projection,” said another source who was part of the meeting.
“The idea was to sensitise states to the need to be well prepared. Health is a state subject and all the real work is being done by them. That is why there was also talk about devolution of responsibilities to the district administration or even the city level for better decentralised care of patients so that tertiary care facilities are not overwhelmed,” said a third person who was part of the meeting.
Going forward, the doubling time would depend on when and to what extent lockdown is relaxed in various parts of the country. India’s worst doubling time was 3.5 days in March. A top official in the government said even in the worst case scenario, the doubling rate may not dip below five as social distancing, hand washing and other behavioural changes are being internalised by people. “But if the doubling time does reach there, the case load would be even more than the projection shared with states,” the source said.
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During a visit to the AIIMS Trauma Centre in New Delhi, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said: “When we compare the number of active patients who are currently hospitalised, we find that only 2.17 per cent patients have been admitted in ICU, 1.29 per cent patients have required oxygen support and mere 0.36 per cent are on ventilator. We are winning the battles and eventually we will win this war…”
The mortality/ death rate of COVID patients in India is 3.1 per cent compared with 7 per cent at the global level, he said. “The doubling rate of the country has been showing regular improvement and stands at 10.5 days when seen over a period of three days, 9.3 days over a period of 7 days and 8.1 days over a period of a 14 days. These indicators may be taken as positive effects of the lockdown along with the cluster management and containment strategies,” he said.
“As on date, 283 districts have not reported any COVID cases, 64 districts have not reported a fresh case since the last 7 days, 48 districts have not reported a fresh case since the last 14 days, 33 districts have not reported a fresh case since the last 21 days and 18 districts have not reported a fresh case since the last 28 days,” the Health Minister said.
He, however, urged the people to “observe the lockdown 2.0 in letter and spirit and to treat it as an effective intervention to cut down spread of COVID-19”.
(With inputs from Manoj CG in New Delhi and Vishwas Waghmode in Mumbai)
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