New Delhi: Exactly two years from the day the first Covid-19 lockdown was enforced, India has taken the first steps to pre-pandemic normalcy with lifting of restrictions on establishments and the decision to no longer invoke provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, for containment measures.
However, the mask mandate and enforcement of Covid-appropriate behaviour, including hand hygiene, remain.
In a 22 March letter to state chief secretaries, Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla announced that the Disaster Management Act would no longer be in force for Covid containment measures after 31 March.
Subsequently, the Union health ministry too issued detailed instructions to states on the way forward.
In a letter dated 23 March, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote to the states: “Ensure advance engagement and information among the community so that there is no misinformation or panic, transparent communication and hospital and testing infrastructure availability, regular press briefings etc. Participation of community backed by strict enforcement is necessary for ensuring Covid-appropriate behaviour. Evidence-based information shall be regularly made available to the community accordingly.”
Soon after, there was speculation about whether mask mandates are being withdrawn, but the health ministry issued a quick clarification, saying: “Some media reports are suggesting relaxation in mask wearing and hand hygiene Covid protocols. These are untrue. Use of face masks and hand hygiene will continue to guide Covid management measures.”
India logged 1,938 new Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours, the health ministry informed Thursday. With this, the active cases in the country witnessed a dip to 22,427.
Almost back to normal
While pre-Covid normalcy may still elude those looking for it in the shunning of masks, restrictions have been lifted off a lot of things, including operations of gymnasia, swimming pools, bars, restaurants and religious places. Social functions such as weddings and funerals may also go on as usual.
“Focus will be on graded relaxation of activities to support the resumption of economic activities. Social/sports/entertainment/academic/cultural/religious/festival related and other gatherings and congregations may be resumed,” said the health secretary’s letter.
“The decision for allowing these activities shall be taken up by the concerned states duly guided by the principles as enunciated above. Offline classes can be resumed (at) academic institutions without any restrictions. However, academic institutions may also leverage a hybrid model of imparting education through online and offline mode,” it added.
Moreover, there will be no capacity restrictions on the operation of shopping complexes, public transport (railways, metros, buses, cabs) and inter- and intra-state movement of essential goods. Offices can function at full capacity, albeit with appropriate use of masks and social distancing.
Test-track-treat-vaccinate to continue
However, states have been instructed not to lower their guards on Covid surveillance, and will have to continue the policy of test-track-treat-vaccinate, striving towards achieving 100 per cent vaccination coverage in all eligible populations.
They also have to maintain sufficient availability of Covid care infrastructure, but at the same time see to it that non-Covid healthcare resumes fully. All health facilities should continue to monitor Influenza-like Illnesses (ILI) and SARI (Severe Acute Respiratory Infection) cases on a daily basis.
Bhushan in his letter highlighted two matters for administrations — restrictions would have to be re-imposed in any areas where test positivity exceeds 10 per cent for a week, and if the occupancy of oxygen supported or ICU beds breaches the 40 per cent mark at any time. He also urged states to continue to focus on genomic surveillance.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)