Unlock 1: Most states to release guidelines on Sunday, Maharashtra not keen to lift curbs
Most of the state governments have said that they will issue state specific guidelines on Sunday in pursuant of the Centre’s directions that allow resumption of almost all activities, except a few such as running of metros and opening of cinemas and gymnasiums, from June 1.
The Centre’s new guidelines provide a roadmap for lifting of the lockdown and allows states to take a call on when the educational institutions, public transport and other social gathering places can open and under which conditions. It also gives powers to the states to take strict measures as per their needs and have to follow the ones issued by the Centre. The nationwide lockdown was first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 for three weeks to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease. It has been extended thrice since then.
However, the relaxations would not be applicable in many areas in 13 cities that account for 70% of the Covid-19 cases, which have been declared as containment areas. The Centre has asked the states to identify the containment centres on high-risk factors such as confirmation rate, fatality rate, doubling rate, tests per million people etc. The Centre has already shared its parametres with the state governments asking them to search for Covid-19 cases through house-to-house surveillance, contact tracing, testing protocol and clinical management of active cases.
The Centre’s announcement comes days after several chief ministers requested lockdown exit guidelines during their discussion with Home Minister Amit Shah and Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba. “We cannot permanently remain in the lockdown,” West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said on Friday. On Saturday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal backed her saying that the country needs to learn to live with Covid-19.
Banerjee has already announced all activities will be allowed in West Bengal from June 1 as the state was reeling under huge financial crisis. States such as Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have also citied financial crunch as a reason for allowing all economic activities saying sustaining lockdown financially will not be possible anymore.
Many of the state government had already started working on reopening of hospitability industry, gymnasiums and malls. Karnataka, Goa and Uttarakhand have already announced that they would open hotels and restaurants from June 1 and have urged the Centre to allow opening of gymnasiums and malls also.
State governments such as Rajasthan, Goa and Uttarakhand have also announced opening of all tourism places from June 1, including wildlife areas. These state governments have issued standard operating procedures for sanitising hotels and resorts and allowing guests with social distancing norms. Restaurants in these states would be allowed with 50 per cent of the existing seating capacity. Goa will also be opening up activities along the beaches from June 1 with social distancing norms. Uttarakhand government will open Chardham Yatra from June 1 for pilgrims under the new home ministry order, state government officials said.
As inter-state travel without permit has been allowed, the state governments will have to come up with new policy on quarantine. “No more we would be able to provide institutional quarantine to all,” said a UP government official. Echoing his sentiments, a Bihar government official said the state has already relaxed institutional quarantine rules to seven days for migrant workers and may further reduce it as more trains will resume operations from Monday.
An official in Himachal Pradesh government said that they were proposing quarantine of only symptomatic residents of the state who want to return back. However, the bigger challenge for hill states like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand is how to prevent huge tourism inflow expected due to rising mercury levels in the plains. “We are discussing this issue and very soon guidelines for tourists will be issued,” said Uttarakhand tourism minister Satpal Maharaj.
Reacting to the MHA order, Odisha Special Relief Commissioner Pradip Jena said relaxation in night curfew for two more hours (till 9 pm from earlier 7 pm) is a welcome step. “Much of the things described in the guidelines, we have little role to play as the central ministries would issue standard operating procedures such as opening of gyms, temples and schools. We would declare Odisha guidelines tomorrow following all that the MHA guidelines have said,” Jena said on Saturday.
A senior Uttar Pradesh government official said they would issue the lockdown 5.0 guidelines in the next few days. “We will examine the guidelines and issue the state government’s guidelines soon,” said chief secretary RK Tiwari. Officials said the state government was considering opening of all states borders for free movement of people even though migrant workers have been a cause of concern as they contributed in large numbers to the surge in Covid cases in recent past.
However, Maharashtra is expected to continue with most of the lockdown 4 restrictions as the number of Covid-19 cases doubled in the state in the past fortnight. The officials said more relaxations can be offered in allowing opening of standalone shops in urban areas. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has already indicated that he is not keen to lift curbs in Mumbai, Pune and Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) as Covid-19 cases could spike if restrictions are lifted.
The Maharashtra government is expected to issue its revised guidelines for the state by Sunday. An official said that the government is going to provide further restrictions in a “gradual and calibrated manner” but Covid-19 cases are bound to go up as this happens. The official added that the state government is moving “cautiously” and relaxations would be given on the degree of “contact” and “essential” nature of the service.
(With inputs from state bureaus)