New Delhi, May 1 (PTI) India will now be under lockdown till May 17 with a complete ban on air travel, trains and inter-state road transport for the general public while educational institutions, theatres, malls, hotels and bars will also remain shut, the government announced on Friday but gave some relaxations for various business activities and people’s movement within areas with limited or no COVID-19 cases.
The decision to extend the lockdown by two more weeks after May 3, when the second phase of these restrictions was scheduled to end, came amid a continuous rise in the number of people testing positive for the deadly virus infection across various states, including in major metropolitans, with the nationwide tally crossing 35,000. The death toll has crossed 1,100.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had first announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown from March 25, which was later extended by two more weeks to contain the virus spread. However, several experts have cautioned that the lockdown is severely impacting economy and many rating agencies and industry bodies have forecast a sharp dip in the country’s economic growth rate for the current fiscal with a few even estimating an overall GDP decline.
All major urban centres including Delhi and Mumbai have been identified as ‘red zones’ or areas with large numbers of cases and therefore not much relaxations would be applicable to them beyond already permitted ones for those involved in essential services.
Special trains also began operating during the day, which also happened to be the Labour Day, to help lakhs of migrant workers stranded for over a month at various urban centres due to the lockdown with many of them having rendered jobless and homeless, reach their native places, including in different states.
Separately, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat announced at a special press brieing, along with the three service chiefs, that the armed forces will express their gratitude to all “corona warriors” on Sunday by conducting fly-pasts, showering petals on hospitals treating COVID-19 patients and illuminating naval vessels.
Besides, the Army will conduct mountain band displays along some COVID-19 hospitals in almost every district.
Rawat also said it is not proper to conclude that the novel coronavirus outbreak is a result of biological warfare. US President Donald Trump had earlier said that the deadly virus originated from a virology lab in China’s Wuhan city before it spread across the world and claimed over 2,33,000 lives and shattered global economies.
But Trump’s comments undercut a rare public statement from his own intelligence community, which stated no such assessment has been made by them whether the COVID-19 outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.
While several countries including Italy, Switzerland, New Zealand, Austria and various states of the US have begun easing their respective lockdowns, India has decided to implement the third phase of its own lockdown, while providing specific relaxations to less affected and ‘virus-free’ areas by classifying districts and cities into red, orange and green zones.
But, some activities will remain prohibited throughout the country, irrespective of the zone, and these include air travel, rail, metro and inter-state movement by road, running of schools, colleges, and other educational and training hospitality services, cinema halls, malls, gymnasiums, sports complexes, as per an order issued by the Union Home Ministry.
All social, political, cultural and other kinds of gatherings and religious places or places of worship for public will also remain shut, the order said.
Outside the containment zone falling within red zones, certain more activities are prohibited in addition to those banned throughout the country and these include plying of cycle rickshaws and auto-rickshaws, running of taxis and cab aggregators, intra-district and inter-district plying of buses, as also barber shops, spas and saloons.
Activities allowed in red zones with restrictions would include movement of individuals and vehicles for permitted activities, with a maximum of two persons (besides the driver) in four-wheelers and with no pillion rider in two-wheelers.
Industrial establishments in urban areas including Special Economic Zones (SEZs), Export Oriented Units (EOUs), industrial estates and industrial townships with access control have been permitted.
Construction activities in urban areas will be limited to in-situ construction (where workers are available on site and no workers are required to be brought in from outside) and construction of renewable energy projects.
Shops in urban areas, for non-essential goods, are not allowed in malls, markets and market complexes. However, all standalone shops, neighbourhood shops and shops in residential complexes are permitted to remain open in urban areas, without any distinction of essential and non-essential.
E-Commerce activities in red zones are permitted only for essential goods. Private offices can operate with up to 33 per cent strength as per requirement, with the remaining persons working from home.
All government offices can function with senior officers of the level of Deputy Secretary and above at full strength, and up to one-third of remaining staff.
Commercial and private establishments allowed in red zones include print and electronic media, IT and IT enabled services, data and call centres, cold storage and warehousing services, private security and facility management services, and services provided by self-employed persons, except for barbers.
In orange zones, taxis and cab aggregators will also be permitted with one driver and one passenger only, while inter-district movement of individuals and vehicles will be allowed for permitted activities only. Four-wheeler vehicles will have maximum two passengers besides the driver and pillion riding will be allowed on two-wheelers.
In green zones, all activities are permitted except those prohibited throughout the country irrespective of the zone. However buses and bus depots can operate with maximum 50 per cent capacity.
Earlier in the day, the Union Health Ministry listed 130 districts in the country in red zone, 284 in orange zone and 319 in green zone.
This classification of districts is to be followed by states and UTs till May 10 and the will be revised on a weekly basis or earlier if required,
Major cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Pune, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad have been designated as red zones in the new classification.
A district will be considered under green zone if there has been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far or there is no reported case since last 21 days in the district. Red zone districts are those considered to be infection ‘hotspots’, decided on the basis of number of active cases, doubling rate of confirmed cases and extent of testing and surveillance feedback.
Districts which are neither defined as a red or green zone, would be considered as an orange zone.
The Health Ministry also said India has ramped up production of COVID-19 protective gears and medical equipment to reduce its dependence on foreign countries for these items which are in high demand globally due to the pandemic.
In its evening update, the Ministry said the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in India has risen to 35,365 with 1,152 deaths, while 9,065 people have so far recovered.