The Centre on Friday once again extended the nationwide lockdown, by two weeks beyond May 4, making it a 54-day long curb to contain the spread of coronavirus. But the second extension, until May 17, comes with significant relaxations through the graded approach of exiting a lockdown.
For this, the Centre and states have undertaken “granular” planning and risk profiling of districts based on red, orange and green zones. In fact, the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs have made use of the government’s contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, mandatory for all public and private entity employees in containment zones, raising privacy concerns.
Despite the lockdown extension, the MHA announcement brought relief to several sectors. For instance, private offices have been allowed to work with 33 per cent strength. Also, most commercial and private establishments have been allowed in red zones. These include IT and IT-enabled services, data and call centres, cold storage, warehousing services, private security and facility management services, and print and electronic media.
There was good news for e-commerce companies too. The guidelines mention that e-commerce companies can only deliver essential items in red zones, but have kept silent about the other zones. In the absence of any government clarification on the matter, the industry has interpreted it in favour of e-commerce players. That is, companies such as Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart will be able to deliver all products including non-essential in green and orange zones. So far during the lockdown, no e-commerce company has been allowed to sell non-essential products anywhere in the country.
Among other steps indicating a phased lifting of the lockdown, cab aggregators such as Uber and Ola would be able to ply, though in a restricted manner. It’s the same for auto rickshaws. Buses too will be on the roads, though with 50 per cent passenger capacity. However, other mass transport modes including metro service and trains would remain closed. So will flights, both domestic as well as international. Many other businesses — hotels, restaurants, malls, high street markets, cinema, gym — would continue to bear the brunt of lockdown. Even schools and colleges, as well as places of worship will stay shut.
While construction and shops have been permitted in green and orange zones to spur economic activity, opening liquor and tobacco outlets in these areas has brought much cheer all across. The caveat is that social distancing will have to be maintained.
In another positive for the industry, the government has watered down a host of stringent workplace norms, including mandatory medical insurance and accommodation for workers, that companies had resisted.
Even as the industry has welcomed the latest relaxations, it continues to press for a stimulus package.
The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has listed 130 districts in the country as red zones, 284 orange zones and 319 green zones on the basis of incidence of cases of Covid-19, doubling rate, extent of testing, and surveillance feedback. Most big urban centres, including Delhi, Mumbai, and Pune are in the red zone.
The MHA order states that movement of individuals for all non-essential activities shall remain strictly prohibited between 7 pm and 7 am across all zones. In all zones, persons above 65, those with co-morbidities, pregnant women and children below 10 shall stay at home, except for health purposes or meeting essential needs.
The relaxations in economic activities come on the heels of the Centre allowing inter-state movement of migrant workers, including by trains.
This is the second extension of the lockdown. The first one was enforced for three weeks from March 25 and then it was extended for another three weeks on April 14.
Ahead of the MHA announcement Friday evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting with Cabinet ministers Amit Shah, Piyush Goyal and Hardeep Singh Puri and Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba to plan the path ahead. Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat and three service chiefs held a rare joint press conference to announce cross country flypasts by fighter jets to honour Covid-19 frontline warriors.
The government has said that the containment zones within red and orange zones will be demarcated by states and district administrations, with intensive surveillance, contact tracing and 100 per cent coverage of Aaryogya Setu App among its residents.
In red zones, plying of cycle rickshaws and auto rickshaws, cab and buses aggregators will remain prohibited, as would barber shops. However, movement of individuals for essential work, four-wheelers with two passengers and two-wheelers without pillion rider will be allowed.
Industrial activity and construction activity in urban areas where workers are available on site will be allowed. As for retail, all standalone shops and neighbourhood shops will remain open in urban areas. And, all shops will be allowed to remain open in rural areas.
Elaborating on the drill starting May 4, the government has said that in orange zones, cab aggregators will be allowed with one driver and two passengers. In green zones, nearly all activities, unless specifically prohibited, will be allowed.