Night curbs in metros to ensure Covid-safe revelry
Authorities in Delhi have announced night-time restrictions to prevent gatherings in public places on December 31 and January 1, joining metro cities such as Mumbai and Bengaluru that introduced varying degrees of curbs to curtail New Year celebrations in the backdrop of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) epidemic.
According to an order issued late on Wednesday, over five people are not allowed to assemble at public places in the Capital from 11pm on Thursday to 6am on Friday, and then again from 11pm on Friday to 6am on Saturday.
This order — it cited the infectious mutant UK strain that has been detected in Delhi — does not apply to “licensed premises” such as hotels, clubs and pubs, which already follow social distancing measures and Covid-19 guidelines drafted by government authorities.
“On such premises, Covid-19 guidelines like limit of persons, mandatory wearing of masks and ensuring other Covid-19 appropriate behaviour will apply,” Delhi chief secretary Vijay Dev said on Thursday.
There was no restriction on gatherings in residential premises. The order made it clear that there was no restriction on interstate and intrastate movement of people and goods.
The order issued by Dev, who is also the chairman of the executive committee of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA), effectively bans large gatherings at places such as the India Gate, a popular destination in the city on New Year’s eve and New Year’s day.
DDMA is in charge of implementation and enforcement of Covid-19-related regulations and management strategies in the city. Lieutenant governor Anil Baijal is its chairperson.
The order said a “detailed assessment of the situation in Delhi has been made”, and “considering the threat posed by the mutant UK strain of Covid-19 virus and after observing local incidents of Covid-19 pandemics in Delhi”, authorities feared that “gatherings, congregations and public celebrations in New Year pose a considerable threat of spread of the virus”.
All district magistrates and deputy commissioners of police in Delhi were told to ensure strict compliance of the restrictions. Violations can attract an imprisonment of up to six months, said a government official who did not want to be identified.
Several teams of revenue officials will be deployed for surveillance and enforcement of broader Covid-19 guidelines at popular public places such as Connaught Place till January 2, a second official said, requesting anonymity. He added that officials were authorised prosecute people not wearing masks and not following social distancing norms, as specified by authorities in previous orders.
The official said the idea of night-time restrictions was discussed at a DDMA meet chaired by LG Baijal on Wednesday. “In the meeting, the L-G reviewed the Covid-19 situation and concerns were raised over patients of the UK strain being detected in Delhi,” he said.
Authorities across the country, including those in Delhi, are on alert in view of the emergence of the mutant strain of the coronavirus that was first detected in London and Kent in mid-September. India has suspended flights to and from the UK until January 7 from December 31. While the new strain is more infectious, there is no evidence to suggest that it increases the severity of the disease.
As of Thursday, India has reported 25 cases of the new strain; at least four of them are Delhi residents.
Delhi has reported 625,369 cases and 10,536 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak in March. On Thursday, the city recorded 574 cases and 13 fatalities.
Overall, India has reported 10,286,236 cases of Covid-19 and 149,034 deaths. The seven-day average has dropped to 19,828, down from the peak of 93,617 for the week ending September 16.
“At this juncture, people should not let their guards down, even though the number of new cases in India is on a decline. Across several other countries, there is a spike in cases and things for India can also change any moment. People should avoid gatherings,” Dr Lalit Kant, former head of the epidemiology and communicable diseases department in premier scientific body Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said.
The city’s business community hinted at muted, and cautious, New Year’s celebrations.
“We have already been following Covid-19 guidelines ever since restaurants were reopened (on June 8 after a lockdown announced on March 25 to contain the spread of the disease)...We will follow those guidelines during New Year’s celebration as well. Restaurants will operate at 50% capacity and there will be no entry of guests without masks. Thermal screening will be mandatory along with hand sanitisation,” said Sanjeev Mehra, president of the Khan Market Traders Association.
Not just Delhi, cities across India stared at low-key New Year’s Day celebrations with stringent restrictions in place.
For instance, the Maharashtra government has imposed night-time restrictions from December 22 to January 5, prohibiting assembly of four or more people in Mumbai and other cities. Gatherings in restaurants, bars and pubs will not be allowed after 11pm. There is no restriction on visiting friends, relatives and public places, but not in a group of over four people, the police added.
Unlike in the past, revellers in Bengaluru will not be able to gather in large numbers in popular spots such as MG Road, Brigade Road, Koramangala and Indira Nagar due to restrictions, Karnataka home minister Basavaraj Bommai told reporters on Thursday.
Prohibitory orders banning the gathering of over four people in public places was in place in the tech hub from Thursday noon to 6am on Friday. Hotels and restaurants were allowed to function, but only till midnight. The government has already prohibited DJ dance programmes and special events at clubs, pubs and restaurants that attract people in large numbers.
The Tamil Nadu government banned celebrations on roads and beaches, including the Marina Beach, till Friday. The Chennai Police will curtail movement on key roads after 10pm on Thursday. Hotels, restaurants and bars will have to close by this cut-off time.
In West Bengal, chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay said the state government will not impose night-time restrictions, but will take precautionary measures to prevent gatherings. “New Year celebrations are organised at a few places in West Bengal. If people abide by the Covid-19 safety protocols and cooperate with the police and administration, gatherings can be avoided,” he told news agency PTI.
(With inputs from agencies)
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