The government on Thursday defended its decision to open up various economic activities amid rising COVID-19 cases, saying it firmly believes that "while lives are important, livelihoods are equally important". With a record single-day spike of 83,883 infections, India's COVID-19 caseload mounted to 38,53,406, while the death toll climbed to 67,376 with 1,043 people succumbing to the disease in a day, according to Union health ministry data updated at 8 am.
The government has adopted a graded approach under 'Unlock' and to open up various economic activities, secretary in the health ministry, Rajesh Bhushan, told a press conference. So far, the Centre has announced four phases of 'Unlock' since June 8 to resume commercial activities.
Asked why the government is opening up different economic activities when there is a spike in daily positive cases, he said, "There is no doubt about it. But then these numbers have to be seen in the context of the total population of India. We are the second most populous country in the world." "We are conducting, on an average, nine-and-half lakh tests in a day which was not happening at least a month-and-a-half ago. Yesterday, in a span of 24 hours we conducted over 11.70 lakh tests, and what is interesting to note is that in that 11.70 lakh tests, the positivity rate remained 7.20 per cent," Bhushan said. It is not as if suddenly everything has been opened up, he said and underscored that prior to graded opening of economic activities in the country, the government ensured all prerequisites such as adequate testing capacity, clear-cut guidelines of standard clinical treatment protocol, enhanced hospital infrastructure, adequate intensive care unit beds and beds with oxygen facility.
"We have created testing capacity where 10 lakh or more tests can be done in a day. So testing, hospital facilities, clinical protocols all these things have been firmed up and shared with states and only then the government has gone in for a graded opening of the economy," Bhushan said. "At the end of the day, the government firmly believes that while lives are important, livelihoods are equally important," he said. The Union home ministry on August 29 had issued 'Unlock 4' guidelines under which metro trains will be allowed to resume services from September 7 in a graded manner, while political, social and religious congregations of up to 100 people will be permitted from September 21. However, schools, colleges, educational and coaching institutions will remain closed for students till September 30, with some relaxations for students of classes 9 to 12.
The home ministry had also said that state governments shall not impose any local lockdown outside COVID-19 containment zones without prior consultation with the central government. It had said that states and Union Territory governments may permit up to 50 per cent of teaching and non-teaching staff to be called to the schools at a time for online teaching or tele-counselling and related work.
Students of classes 9 to 12 may be permitted to visit their schools in areas outside the containment zones only on a voluntary basis for taking guidance from their teachers. While India's COVID-19 tally has crossed 38 lakh, the recoveries surged to 29,70,492 on Thursday pushing the recovery rate to over 77 per cent, according to the data updated at 8 am.