lockdown looks set to be extended, the Centre in consultation with states is moving to restart economic activity in a graded manner in what marks a major change of approach in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Spelling out the shift in a video conference with chief ministers on Saturday, Prime Minister
Narendra Modi said while the earlier mantra was “jaan hai to jahan hai (if there is life, you can enjoy the world)”, the way ahead would be guided by “jaan bhi, jahan bhi (life as well as our world)”.
He also noted that CMs had suggested extending the lockdown by two weeks.
Right at the outset of the interaction, the PM said the situation had “left us with no option but to extend the lockdown by at least two weeks”. The discussions ended with a broad agreement on framing norms for greater public movement while continuing with a focused containment strategy for hotspots.
While the lockdown is to be extended till month-end, there will be several measures for a calibrated exit, the guidelines for which are to be spelt out in the next two to three days. Businesses and markets may be allowed to resume in areas that have no infections or a low incidence of the disease. States are likely to designate districts, towns and cities as red, orange and green zones — there might be some zoning within cities and towns as well — to allow differentiated restoration of normal life, with conditions like use of masks and social distancing in public places.
The Centre and states are moving to restart economic activity in a graded manner though the current lockdown looks set to be extended beyond April 14. However, areas containing Covid-19 hotspots won’t see any restoration of economic activity as yet.
“There will be some experimentation to get the economy going after a three-week lockdown,” an official source said.
The government is examining a proposal to allow units that can accommodate employees on their campuses to function after authorities are satisfied about adherence to social distancing requirements. Harvesting operations have already been exempted and state governments are being nudged to go to villages to buy the harvested crop directly from farmers so that there is no crowding at mandis.
In his interaction with chief ministers on Saturday, PM Narendra Modi emphasised the criticality of the coming 3-4 weeks for determining the impact of steps taken to contain the virus, a government release said. “While calling for the lockdown, I had said that life comes first and emphasised the importance of lockdown and social distancing for saving our citizens. A majority of people appreciated this and discharged their responsibility by staying at home and helped save lives. Now, for a brighter future and a prosperous and healthier India, we need to focus on both ‘jaan’ and ‘jahan’,” he said at the meeting which was marked by a strong consensus favouring an aggressive response to the public health emergency.
The PM had earlier this week told leaders of political parties that the removal of “stay-at-home” curbs would have to be staggered and, also, that there could not be a single exit plan for the entire county. Modi’s discussions with CMs did not see any major divergence in approaches as most CMs agreed that the lockdown had been beneficial while raising demand for economic assistance.
In fact, the CMs of
Karnataka and Delhi proactively supported an extended lockdown. Sources said there was no plan at the moment for the PM to make a televised address to the nation.
The plans being considered include special norms for industrial townships which will have strict entry and exit norms and internal transport for workers. Such areas will be subject to sanitisation strategies such as use of disinfection tunnels at factories and plants and reworked labour shifts.
In areas where markets can be reopened, there might be an alternate day timetable and larger mandis may see restrictions on the number of people who can be present at any point in time. Similarly, states may consider limited restoration of transport, at least within districts and cities, to begin with. Inter-district travel may not be allowed immediately, and inter-state travel and restoration of train services and airlines are not on the table.
Central government offices are to begin functioning again from Monday and there are suggestions to restart public services by greater use of e-tokens and hour-wise appointments that will reduce crowding in banks and other such utilities like municipal and administrative offices. The guidelines for the farm sector are already in place and more instructions on supply chain movement can be expected. There will be relaxations for flood control activities too.
During the interaction with chief ministers, the PM said the combined effort of the Centre and states had helped reduce the impact of Covid-19 but the situation required constant vigilant.
According to a release, Modi assured that India had adequate supplies of essential medicines and said measures were being taken to ensure availability of protective gear and critical equipment. He warned against black marketing and hoarding. “Condemning and expressing distress at the instances of attacks on the doctors and medical staff, and at incidents of misbehaviour with students from north-east and
Kashmir, the PM said such cases need to be dealt with firmly,” the release said.