Swimming pools to movie halls, more curbs relaxed
- The guidelines for “Surveillance, Containment and Caution”, applicable for February 1-28, also said the civil aviation ministry may take a call on further opening up of international air travel in consultation with the MHA.
The Union ministry of home ministry affairs (MHA) on Wednesday took a fresh step towards normalcy in the country battered by the coronavirus disease, announcing further relaxation of curbs on gatherings, cinema halls and swimming pools in the first set of guidelines against Covid-19 released in the new year.
The guidelines for “Surveillance, Containment and Caution”, applicable for February 1-28, also said the civil aviation ministry may take a call on further opening up of international air travel in consultation with the MHA. At present, India is operating international flights under special arrangements with 24 countries, and Vande Bharat rescue flights to pick up its citizens stranded abroad.
Social, religious, cultural, sports, entertainment and educational gatherings will be subject to standard operating procedures (SOPs) by states and Union Territories (UTs), the government announced, lifting restrictions on these activities first imposed by it in March 2020, when the pandemic gripped the nation. Initially, these activities were completely banned. At present, they are permitted, but with a maximum of 50% of the hall capacity and a ceiling of 200 people in closed spaces.
Cinema halls and theatres, already allowed to function with 50% of seating capacity, can now have a higher capacity, but the ministry of information and broadcasting will release SOPs to this effect in consultation with the MHA.
Besides, swimming pools, where only sportspersons are allowed at present, have been opened to all. The youth affairs and sports ministry will release the SOPs with MHA inputs. Similarly, all types of exhibition halls will be permitted in February and the SOP to that effect will be released by the department of commerce. Business-to-business (B2B) exhibition halls have already been permitted in the country.
All other activities are permitted outside containment zones, which are epicentres of Covid-19 infections and have restricted entry and stringent perimeter control.
In a letter to states and UTs, home secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla said: “As you are aware, the number of active cases in the country have been declining steadily over the past four months. However, there is a need for maintaining caution and strict surveillance so as to fully overcome the pandemic.”
Bhalla added that “the essence behind the graded re-opening and progressive resumption of activities is to move ahead”.
Till Wednesday, India has recorded 10,702,073 Covid-19 cases and 153,903 fatalities. The seven-day average of infections now stands at 12,897, compared to the peak of 93,617 on September 16, 2020.
The guidelines also said there shall be no restriction on inter- and intra-state movement, “including those for cross land-border trade under Treaties with neighbouring countries”. No separate permission or e-permit will be required for such movements.
People above 65, those with co-morbidities, pregnant women and children below 10 years are advised to stay at home. The government also encouraged citizens to use the contact-tracing mobile application, Aarogya Setu. The guidelines asked states and UTs to ensure wearing of face masks, hand hygiene and social distancing. National directives for Covid-19 management, such as fines on spitting in public places, will continue to be followed. For offices and marketplaces, the guidelines advocated staggering of work and business hours, thermal screening and proper sanitisation, and social distancing.
The guidelines said containment Zones, if required, “shall be carefully demarcated by the district authorities at the micro level”. Police and municipal authorities will be responsible to ensure that the prescribed containment measures are strictly followed. After 68 days of hard lockdown (when only essential services were allowed) last year, the government began implementing a graded plan to reopen business activities.