Two days before lockdown 4.0 comes to a close, the Centre and states engaged in hectic parleys to chalk out the road ahead. After taking chief ministers’ views on the contours of the next lockdown, Union Home Minister Amit Shah met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday before finalising the guidelines. Sources indicated that the focus this time would be on further easing the curbs on economic activities, including opening shops in malls, while maintaining stringent norms in the containment zones. Also, states are likely to have a bigger role than the Centre in deciding how lockdown 5.0 will play out from June 1.
After a first of its kind meeting between Shah and chief ministers, officials said from now on, lockdown measures would be reviewed every fortnight and restrictions would largely be decided by states. While many states opted to wait for the Centre’s guidelines, expected on Saturday, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee led the way in announcing significant relaxations from June 1.
Even as there’s no consensus among states on the shape of the next lockdown, many favoured extension of curbs to contain the spread of Covid-19 cases. Kerala, Jharkhand and Haryana are among those concerned that economic reasons outweighing health considerations could sharply increase the number of cases.
Therefore, they want the lockdown extended. ‘’Considering the cases are going up, the recommendations are not in favour of lifting of the lockdown,’’ a Kerala government official told Business Standard.
However, others such as West Bengal, Karnataka, Punjab, and Goa supported further relaxations to spur economic activity. After his meeting with Shah, Goa CM Pramod Sawant said he felt the lockdown may be extended for 15 more days. “However, we want some more relaxations like opening of restaurants with social distancing at 50 per cent capacity,” he said.
West Bengal government on Friday allowed offices — private and government — to operate at full capacity from June 8; jute and tea industries would also be allowed to deploy full workforce. To facilitate this, public transport, particularly buses, would be allowed to ply, though crowding and standing will not be allowed.
Banerjee also approved opening religious places from June 1 with restrictions. “Considering the sorry state of affairs in the country, let us come forward and pray together,” Banerjee said on Friday.
Karnataka, too, has decided to open the doors to religious places from June 1. Pujas can be offered through an app which would soon start taking bookings. The state is also in favour of opening restaurants and theatres from Monday, but the Centre will take a final call on the issue.
Punjab CM Amarinder Singh told a group of industrialists that his government wants to ensure 100 per cent operationalization over the next few days. He said 78 per cent of the industry had resumed operations, and 68 per cent of the migrant labour has opted to stay back in Punjab.
While educational institutions will remain shut, the view was divided on whether the Centre should allow resumption of metro services, opening of restaurants, hotels and theatres from June 1.
International air travel is likely to remain suspended for some time.
The Centre-state talks on Friday also revolved around resumption of economic activities in the worst Covid-19 hit cities including the biggest urban centres of the country such as Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Indore, and Jaipur. The Centre is concerned at the increase in cases in 30 municipal areas across states accounting for 80 per cent of the positive turnout in the country. Most states agree that the Centre should continue to restrict inter-state bus, train and flight operations.
Sources indicated that parts of Tamil Nadu — that had not reported new Covid cases or seen a decline in the number of cases — would see relaxations. But it may not be the same in Chennai as the numbers in the metro were increasing.
Telangana and Andhra Pradesh were treading cautiously as the number of cases was on the rise. No additional relaxations have been sought by the two state governments. Not much is expected to change in Maharashtra, which accounts for the highest share of confirmed Covid cases and fatalities. CM Uddhav Thackeray is understood to have asked for resumption of suburban trains in Mumbai for emergency service.
Delhi health minister Satyendra Jain said large congregations should not be allowed. Schools, colleges, cinemas should remain shut, he said on a day when two floors of Parliament Annexe building were sealed after an officer tested positive.
In UP, the Yogi Adityanath government was slated to take stock of the situation with top district officials on Friday night. At present, there are about 1,200 hotspots in the state with a population of more than 5 million people belonging to 960,000 households, UP additional chief secretary Awanish Kumar Awasthi told the media.
The fresh guidelines by the MHA are set to ask states to implement social distancing more strictly and increase fines on those violating this. Punjab on Friday increased fine on those found spitting in public places to Rs 500. Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan has said he has received representations from many religious leaders to open religious places. Among others, Rajasthan plans to restrict the lockdown to “curfew and non-curfew zones”. Odisha, after an increase in the spread, favours extending the lockdown. Haryana home minister Anil Vij has said lockdown should continue beyond May 31 and justified strictness at the state’s borders with Delhi since free movement was likely to result in a surge in Covid cases in the state.
(With inputs from Avishek Rakshit, Samreen Ahmad, Virendra Singh Rawat, T E Narasimhan, Dasarath B Reddy, Aneesh Phadnis & Archis Mohan)