In Unlock 4, Delhi Metro could open in September but not schools | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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In Unlock 4, Delhi Metro could open in September but not schools

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByNeeraj Chauhan and Anisha Dutta, New Delhi
Aug 25, 2020 05:07 AM IST

In the new guidelines for “Unlock 4”, bars too might be allowed to open, but they could be restricted to running takeaway services and over-the-counter sale of alcohol, the officials said.

The government may allow the resumption of Metro services after over five months in September, when the fourth phase of a plan to restart businesses and activities restricted in view of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) kicks in, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

An Indian health worker arrange rapid kits to test for the coronavirus in Hyderabad.(AP)
An Indian health worker arrange rapid kits to test for the coronavirus in Hyderabad.(AP)

In the new guidelines for “Unlock 4”, bars too might be allowed to open, but they could be restricted to running takeaway services and over-the-counter sale of alcohol, the officials said. Schools and colleges will continue to remain closed though there are talks of reopening the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM), the people cited above said.

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According to deliberations in the ministry of home affairs (MHA) — which issues phase-wise Covid-19 guidelines — and other concerned departments, cinema halls and auditoriums will continue to be closed at least for another month. There is a view that even if cinema halls are allowed, it will not be financially viable to run shows with just 25-30% capacity in view of social-distancing norms.

Officials also said the new guidelines, expected later this week, will just mention the prohibited activities. Anything beyond that ambit can resume. Containment zones, considered epicentres of Covid-19 infections, will continue to be under strict lockdown and monitoring.

The officials said social, political, sports, entertainment, academic, cultural and religious functions, and other large congregations, are likely to remain prohibited in September.

On Metro services, government officials said the modalities were still being worked out in consultation with the housing and urban affairs ministry (which operates the Delhi Metro), local governments, Metro rail corporations and security agencies.

“The new norms being drafted by the MHA on the resumption of Metro rail are likely to include contact-less ticketing through Metro cards, increase in the average stoppage time at each station, markings for queues across all stations for crowd control and social distancing, and an overhaul in the air-conditioning system inside trains to ensure supply of fresh air,” said an official who did not want to be named.

This official said Metro services, which have stopped since March 22, are likely to begin in a calibrated manner, similar to the way train and flight services resumed with reduced frequency and limited capacity.

Passengers travelling in Metro trains may not be allowed to use tokens anymore with the Centre planning to implement a contactless ticketing system involving Metro cards alone, HT reported on April 30.

Another official said state governments can further decide how to run Metro trains and take a call on their timings. The final decision on whether to run the services is likely to rest with the concerned states.

“We are ready to resume services in a few days’ notice, but are awaiting a formal nod from MHA. Across states, preparations have been made to ensure markings (for crowd management) across all stations. Delhi has highest volume of Metro users. Arrangements have been made at stations and inside trains for social distancing,” the second official said.

With nearly six million passenger journeys a day, the Metro is the lifeline of Delhi. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday urged the central government to consider restarting the services in the city in a phased manner, if needed.

“People of Delhi have been requesting us to start Metro services. We have taken this up with the central government on several occasions. We have urged the Centre to explore the possibility of resuming Metro services in Delhi, while keeping it prohibited in other states as of now. Delhi is a special case because we have the Covid situation under control,” Kejriwal said in a speech at the end of a webinar with traders in the city.

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which provides security to Metros, have chalked out protocols to ensure smooth and contactless travel in the time of the pandemic. CISF has already conducted drills on how passengers will queue up at entry points and platforms, an official in the paramilitary force said.

The fresh development came at a time when the Covid-19 positivity rate has started rising again in Delhi, with 7.4% of all tests conducted in the past week coming back positive — the highest this number has touched in over a month. In this backdrop, experts flagged concerns over the resumption of Metro services.

“I have my apprehensions...as it is going to be a huge challenge to control the spread of infection among people travelling together in a closed space like the Delhi Metro. For the convenience of people, it is a good idea to start public transport. But from an epidemic point of view, it is a bad idea,” said Sandeep Nayar, senior director, department of respiratory medicine, allergy and sleep disorders, BLK Super Speciality Hospital in the national capital.

“How frequently will the Metro be disinfected? And since all surfaces such as railings, poles, elevators will be frequently touched surfaces, how often will these be disinfected?” Nayar wondered.

The government imposed strict curbs on activities and travel across the country on March 25. After 68 days of a hard lockdown, the government began implementing a graded plan to reopen businesses and bring economic activities, hit hard by the pandemic and the restrictions that followed, back on track in June. It was then that the “Unlock 1” phase guidelines came into place.

Shops, malls, hotels and restaurants, offices and religious places have been allowed to open in a phased manner over the past few months. Restrictions on interstate and intrastate travel too have been lifted. Train services and flight operations, including limited flights to and from abroad, have resumed.

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