The Centre has extended the nationwide lockdown by another two weeks, until May 31, to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. Lockdown 4.0 comes with some relaxations to pave the way for increased movement of people and facilitate more economic activity.
In its fresh guidelines released late on Sunday, the Centre accepted the demands of several states that they be allowed to demarcate zones. Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla held a meeting with chief secretaries of the states and Union Territories (UTs) in the evening to discuss the broad contours of their respective lockdown strategies.
The latest guidelines empower the states and UTs to delineate zones based on the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) parameters.
Another change, according to the fresh MoHFW parameters issued on Sunday to chief secretaries by Union health secretary Preeti Sudan, is that states/UTs need not colour code an entire district as red, orange or green. Based on the spread of infection, they can now select even a smaller administrative unit as red, orange or green, like a sub-division, a ward or any other administration unit.
This could help in relaxing restrictions for starting economic activities in big urban centres across the country, including Delhi and Mumbai, where nearly all districts are currently demarcated as red. Demarcating a smaller administrative unit as red would allow rest of the district to have fewer restrictions.
The Centre has tasked district authorities to demarcate ‘buffer’ and ‘containment’ zones, based on MoHFW parameters and said only essential activities would be allowed in the containment zones.
A key change is that interstate movement of passenger vehicles and buses has been allowed, but with mutual consent of states and UTs.
The new guidelines also allow for sports complexes and stadia to open but without spectators. This could pave the way for holding of sporting events such as the Indian Premier League.
The guidelines have appealed to employers to follow work-from-home as far as possible, but the earlier restriction that only 30 per cent employees can attend office has been removed. The new norms ask all employers to instruct their employees with ‘compatible phones’ to install the Aarogya Setu app. In this, the Centre has conceded that not everyone has a compatible phone.
Apart from containment zones, there is no specific restriction on e-commerce, including on non-essential items, but the final decision on this will be that of respective state governments.
The guidelines reiterated that restaurants are permitted to operate kitchens for home delivery of food items. However, the hospitality sector — hotels and restaurants — will remain shut. Air travel, Metro rail services, schools, colleges and other educational institutions will remain shut, while online education will be encouraged.
The Centre said cinema halls, shopping complexes, malls, swimming pools, gymnasia, large congregations and gatherings — including social, political, cultural, and religious — will remain banned. All religious places will also remain shut. There cannot be more than 50 guests at a wedding, and no more than 20 people at a funeral.
Elderly above 65 years of age and children below 10 should stay home. Night curfew between 7 pm to 7 am for all non-essential activities will continue.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) notified the lockdown extension in the evening. Earlier in the day, some states like Maharashtra had extended the lockdown. The first lockdown was enforced on March 25, the second on April 14, and the third on May 1.
In its notification, the NDMA directed the Centre’s national executive committee “to issue modifications in the guidelines as necessary, keeping in view the need to open up economic activities, while containing the spread of Covid-19”.