As phase 4 of the coronavirus lockdown comes to an end, not just the country but also state governments are on tenterhooks about the Centre’s strategy to enter the next stage amid an increasing number of Covid-19 infections. India on Saturday recorded the biggest one-day spike in coronavirus cases as well as deaths, with 7,964 infections and 265 fatalities in 24 hours.
The central government is likely to extend the lockdown in some form by another two weeks after May 31 to stop the spread of coronavirus but there could be even more relaxations in the offing. A top source in the government described the next phase as “lockdown extension in spirit”, and said most of the focus would be on 11 cities that account for nearly 70 per cent of the Covid-19 cases in the country. This includes the six major metro cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Kolkata, as well as Pune, Thane, Jaipur, Surat and Indore.
The continuing rise in cases poses a severe challenge for India’s strained medical capacity and overburdened health system, leading to questions about the effectiveness of the over two month lockdown as it has not managed to flatten the curve despite slowing the rise in cases.
The Centre had in the fourth phase of the lockdown focused most of the restrictions to the containment zones and allowed operation of all markets, offices, industries and business along with plying of buses in all other areas to completely open the economy. Last week, the government also allowed operations of domestic flights in a limited capacity.
Among the relaxations that may be added in 'Lockdown 5.0' is the reopening of places of worship, as well as gymnasiums. Government officials said temples and other places of worship can be allowed to open provided social distancing is maintained and worshipers wear a mask. However, no religious congregation or festival will be allowed.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Friday met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sources say the two discussed suggestions that have come from states and the task forces set up by the Centre. On Thursday, Shah had called up the chief ministers of all states and Union Territories to seek their view on the proposed lockdown extension. Most states are in favour of giving a boost to economic activities but are also worried about the rising coronavirus numbers.
As the Centre readies its blueprint, here’s what states expect in lockdown 5.0:
The Arvind Kejriwal government has made it clear it will follow MHA guidelines. If the Centre gives its nod, the Capital seeks resumption of metro services. Schools, meanwhile, have been asked to prepare a plan for re-opening, while the government adopts a wait-and-watch policy on Centre’s reaction to opening of malls and religious places.
Not much relaxation or economic activities are expected in the red zones of Mumbai and Pune as Maharashtra battles the maximum Covid-19 cases. While the government waits for Centre’s guidelines, efforts are on to allow resumption of local train services in Mumbai for essential service providers such as healthcare, BMC staff, etc for a few hours in a few stations every day. Maharashtra is mulling reopening of schools cautiously from mid-June in low-risk zones but a final decision will be taken only after Centre’s guidelines.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government is considering reopening of places of worship and more shops, markets, and malls in the state. There is also a proposal to start Lucknow metro services in a graded manner if the Centre approves.
Tamil Nadu had indicated to district collectors that economic activities can be opened up in districts where there are no positive cases recorded for at least three weeks but has asked districts to wait for guidelines of MHA. Sources say state government is cautious when it comes to Chennai and restrictions likely to continue in Chennai post May 31. The TN CM is also meeting public experts on Saturday to get their views on lockdown exit strategy.
Several relaxations are already in place in Telangana with all shops open in the state except for salons and pubs. State-run RTC buses are operating, except in Hyderabad. Any more relaxations are unlikely at this point in time.