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States bat for ‘very targeted’ lockdown in worst-hit cities after fourth phase ends Sunday

A key demand from states is to resume public transport, but discussions continue on exactly how this should be done with the Covid-19 pandemic yet to recede.

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New Delhi: Some of the worst-affected states like Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu are pushing for a “very targeted” Covid-19 lockdown” after the ongoing phase 4 ends Sunday, ThePrint has learnt.

Multiple government officials, in states as well as at the central level, said they are hoping to restart more activities in less-affected areas, while maintaining strict restrictions in red/containment zones where the cases continue to see a spurt. 

There are two facets to the idea: a) most of the residual restrictions should be removed from cities and districts beyond the worst-affected ones, b) within the cities with a high case load and surging incidence, restrictions should be eased outside the red/containment zones. A key demand is to resume public transport, which is seen as a key requirement to get activities up and running again. But discussions continue on exactly how this should be done with the Covid-19 pandemic yet to recede.

West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh are learnt to be among the other backers of the idea. 

India has been under a lockdown since 25 March as it strives to check the spread of coronavirus. The restrictions spared nothing but services deemed essential, for example, health, media and food supplies.

However, many of the restrictions have been eased since, especially under phase 4 of the lockdown, which has seen cab, train and aviation services resume, and salons and markets reopen in several areas, among other things. At each stage of the lockdown, the central government has devised guidelines in consultation with states, which have had the final call on deciding which ones to implement.

Talking about the proposal for what would be the fifth lockdown phase, a senior government officer said commercial establishments and industries could be opened up further in areas outside the red and containment zones in cities/districts with high case loads. 

More public transport, including metro services, and restaurants could be allowed to operate with strict social-distancing norms, the senior government officer added.  

“It won’t be a uniform formula for the entire state. Most of the restrictions will be lifted in districts that don’t have a high number of cases or have managed to contain the spread of the virus,” the officer said. “States will be given more freedom to decide what all services should open.”  

The official added that municipal corporations will take a call on towns, municipal zones or residential areas that will be put under red/containment zones.  

While the fifth lockdown may lead to an easing of many restrictions, educational institutions, cinema halls and malls are unlikely to  see any relaxation even after 31 May, officials said.

“As it is, restrictions have been eased in many cities. They will be lifted further with only limited areas where relaxations won’t be allowed,” a second officer said.

A third senior officer said the central government will be holding a series of internal meetings as well as video conference meetings with states over the next two days before finalising the revised guidelines that will be in place after the fourth phase of lockdown.

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‘Plan to allow more activities’

A senior officer from the Maharashtra government hinted that restrictions will continue in red and containment zones in Mumbai, Pune, Thane and Nagpur.

“Of the 25 municipal corporations in the state, Covid cases are high in only 12. We plan to allow more activities in the remaining corporations. We are currently discussing the extent up to which public transport can be allowed to open in the cities as opening of offices and shops will be dependent on it,” the officer said.  

Cabinet secretary reviews situation 

Ahead of 31 May, when lockdown 4.0 ends, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba held a meeting with chief secretaries, health secretaries and municipal commissioners of all states to assess how they are managing the Covid-19 cases.  

A government officer who attended the meeting said Gauba pulled up Telangana for their low testing rate. “The cabinet secretary told the Telangana officials that the fewer number of tests that they are doing as compared to their population, sooner or later Covid-19 cases will blow up,” the official said.  

A government statement issued after the meeting said Gauba specifically reviewed the situation of 13 cities that are considered to be the worst affected by novel coronavirus and constitute about 70 per cent of India’s positive cases.

The 13 focus cities are Mumbai, Pune, Thane (Maharashtra), Delhi/New Delhi, Ahmedabad (Gujarat), Hyderabad (Telangana), Kolkata/Howrah (West Bengal), Indore (Madhya Pradesh), Jaipur, Jodhpur (Rajasthan), and Chennai, Chengalpattu and Thiruvallur (Tamil Nadu).

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