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Covid-19 pandemic: Focus on relaxing lockdown for harvesting in rural India

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/covid-19-pandemic-focus-on-relaxing-lockdown-for-harvesting-in-rural-india/articleshow/75088160.cms

New Delhi: Prime Minister
Narendra Modi is expected to discuss proposals to extend the
Covid-19 lockdown to the end of the month in urban centres while easing it selectively for rural areas to allow
harvesting, said officials with knowledge of the matter. Modi is scheduled to hold a video conference today (April 11) with chief ministers, ahead of the scheduled end of the three-week lockdown on April 14.

The PM and chief ministers will debate whether rural areas can be fully opened up or just to the extent of allowing the critical agricultural activity, said the people cited above. An announcement regarding the shutdown’s extension or otherwise could be made on Sunday, the officials said.

The chances of the lockdown being lifted in urban centres from April 15 are bleak, officials said, citing the rising deaths and infections in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and Indore. Odisha and Punjab have extended the lockdown until April 30 and May 1, respectively. Many other states have suggested the same to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), saying that only harvesting be allowed. As many as 133 districts in nearly a dozen states—a majority of them with urban concentrations—are under aggressive containment currently. The government doesn’t want to disturb this arrangement.

Vardhan Points to Rapid Rise

“We are in the third week of the lockdown. Usually, all experts say if you use lockdown, it takes three-four weeks to flatten out the curve,” Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said in a video conference on Friday with foreign diplomats. “I expect that in the coming days or weeks, we expect better results and India will come out of this crisis with minimal loss of lives.”

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He pointed out that more than 400 districts in the country had not reported a single infection and India had the lowest coronavirus positive numbers in the world–3.4 cases per million population. In another video conference with state health ministers, Vardhan however pointed to a second surge in cases in Japan, South Korea and China and said some states in India were now seeing an “unusual speed in positive cases.”

The prime minister will take a call by arriving at a consensus with chief ministers, a senior central government official told ET.

“The harvesting of the rabi crop is essential and the same will be allowed,” he said. “States have to specify an action plan if they are confident of opening up the rural areas fully without risking the spread of infections. Much of rural India is safe from the coronavirus so far but the question is if a chance can be taken.”

PK Mishra, principal secretary to the PM, met the 11 empowered groups of officers on Covid-19 on Friday to review steps to assist farmers across the country to harvest their produce while maintaining social distancing. Issues related to supply chain and logistics management to ensure the availability of essentials and arranging shelter for vulnerable groups such as migrant workers and the homeless were also reviewed by the senior officials on Friday.

The government is also closely studying the experience of other countries with lockdown strategies, including Japan and Singapore imposing a lockdown after a second wave of positive cases. Modi spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday. They discussed the measures taken by their countries to deal with the crisis.

Eleven states are under scrutiny and relief from the lockdown there looks difficult, the officials cited above said. These are Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Rajasthan, Telangana, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. Of the 133 districts in these states, those reporting more than 15 cases each have been targeted with a ‘large outbreak containment strategy.’ A ‘cluster containment strategy’ shas been applied to those with 6-15 cases each.

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