Covid-19 lockdown: Some states look beyond colour-coding
Authorities in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Punjab, West Bengal and Jharkhand have decided against identifying red zone districts in the fourth phase of the lockdown that began on May 18 with the Centre relaxing guidelines to help businesses open after an unprecedented lockdown.
Colour-coding of zones based on the prevalence of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases is losing relevance in several states that are primarily focusing on containment areas instead to contain the infection, according to local officials.
For example, authorities in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Punjab, West Bengal and Jharkhand have decided against identifying red zone districts in the fourth phase of the lockdown that began on May 18 with the Centre relaxing guidelines to help businesses open after an unprecedented lockdown.
In the latest lockdown guidelines by the home ministry, states have been given the power to define red, orange and green zones that have been instrumental in the strategy for imposing area-specific curbs in the previous phase of curbs between May 4 and May 17. While stricter curbs were implemented in red zones, orange zones got several relaxations. The rules were significantly eased for green zones.
“Under the new guidelines, States and Union Territories (UTs) will now delineate Red, Green and Orange zones taking into consideration the parameters shared by the Health Ministry,” the government said on May 17. These zones can be a district, or a municipal corporation, or even smaller administrative units such as sub-divisions.
Earlier, it was the Centre that came out with two lists — on April 15 and May 1 — identifying red zones (with maximum Covid-19 cases), orange zones (with fewer infections) and green zones (Covid-19-free areas), though several states expressed dismay over the process. In the first list, India had 130 red zones, while the second list identified 170 such areas.
The new guidelines added that within red and orange zones, “containment and buffer zones will be as demarcated by the local authorities, after taking into consideration the Health Ministry guidelines”.
An official in Chhattisgarh, which has identified four blocks as red zones, said: “We have gone by the central government rule, which allows just a locality or a block, instead of an entire district, to be declared a red zone,” said the official who did not want to be named.
Till last week, four districts in the state were in the red zone defined by the central government. Now, in the four red zone blocks, Chhattisgarh has 44 containment centres, same as it had on May 17. “The zones are declared keeping in mind the present situation and geographical area,” the official added.
The Centre has laid down some guidelines for states to help them define the zones. The parameters include active cases, active cases per lakh population, doubling rate and case fatality rate, testing ratio and sample positivity rate. Similarly, it has asked local authorities to focus on mapping of cases, geographical dispersion of cases, and enforcing strict perimeter control in case of containment zones, which can be broadly defined as epicentres of infections.
On Saturday, Jharkhand placed 21 districts with Covid-19 cases in orange zones. “At present, the state has no red zone district as none of the 24 districts... all 21 affected districts are placed in orange zones, and three other districts, which have not reported any case so far, are green zones,” said state health department principal secretary Nitin Madan Kulkarni.
Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, too, have done away with the concept of zones, and have taken a cluster-based approach. Till May 17, Andhra Pradesh had five red districts and Telangana six. Now, the focus is on Andhra’s 341 clusters and Telangana’s 130.
Andhra Pradesh’s nodal Covid-19 officer, Arja Sreekanth, said clusters that report several fresh cases in a five-day period are classified as “very active”. The two states have given powers to district collectors to identify these clusters and implement strict lockdown norms there. According to federal guidelines, lockdown relaxations across the country are not applicable to containment zones.
“The number of containment clusters keep changing on a day-to-day basis, depending on the increase or decrease in the number of Covid-19 cases,” S Subrahmanyam, an official in Andhra’s Covid-19 command control room, said.
Kerala, too, has discontinued the colour-coding and adopted containment strategies giving the police powers not to allow people in these areas to move out of their houses. Karnataka has adopted a similar approach. “The number of containment zones is a dynamic number which changes on a daily basis,” said a Karnataka health department official, who was not willing to be named.
“The colour categorization was needed in the initial stages to prevent quick spread of Covid to new areas in the district. We were able to contain the infection to certain areas, which shows the strategy worked...(now) the states should decide on how to manage the Covid-19 hot spots,” VK Paul, member incharge of health, Niti Aayog, said last week.