Lockdown extended till May 31, inter-state buses allowed in more relaxations outside COVID-19 containment zones; record jump in new cases

New Delhi, May 17 (PTI) India on Sunday extended the coronavirus lockdown for two more weeks with the fourth phase providing more relaxations outside the containment zones including inter-state movement of buses with mutual consent of states that is expected to be of immediate relief for thousands of migrant workers on the roads.

Easing more curbs to step up economic activity, the new guidelines for lockdown 4.0 unveiled by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) till May 31 allowed shops and markets including barber shops, salons and spas except those in malls to open with staggered timings. E-commerce companies were also permitted to deliver all goods, including those considered non-essential.

However, the night curfew will remain which meant that all non-essential travel will remain prohibited between 7 pm and 7 am and authorities will ensure strict compliance, the MHA said.

As the country recorded the highest single day spike of 4,987 new cases, the states were allowed to demarcate the red, green and orange zones depending upon COVID-19 case load, a demand made by chief ministers of several states and union territories. The MHA said the same should be done after taking into consideration of parameters outlined by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Hotels, restaurants, cinema halls, malls, swimming pools, gyms will continue to remain shut till May 31. All social, political, religious functions, and places of worship will also be closed till that date.

The announcement of the expected extension came on a day the Centre unveiled plans to privatise PSUs in non-strategic sectors and suspend loan default-triggered bankruptcy filings for one year to complete the fifth and final tranche of its economic stimulus package that together with RBI's liquidity measures totalled about Rs 21 lakh crore but entailed less than 10 per cent cash outgo from government coffers.

During a video conference with the chief ministers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said the lockdown after the end of the third phase on Sunday that lasted 54 days will have different set of rules and guidelines in a bid to return to normality.

The guidelines for lockdown 4.0 were announced shortly after the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) ordered that lockdown measures needed to be implemented for a further period of 14 days in the country to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The NDMA, in exercise of powers under Section 6 (2) (i) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, hereby directs the ministries and departments of the Government of India, state governments and state authorities to continue the lockdown measures up to May 31, NDMA member secretary G V V Sarma said.

Hours before the order was given, the governments in the worst affected states of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu announced they are extending the lockdown till May 31. Punjab and Mizoram had earlier announced similar measure.

Listing the dos and don'ts during the lockdown 4.0 that is in force in the country since March 25 to cut the chain of COVID-19 transmission, the MHA allowed inter-state and intra-state movements of passenger vehicles and buses from areas other than the containment zones. However, the guidelines made it clear that bus services will be allowed with mutual consent of states and union territories involved.

The Centre has also left it to the states to decide on the operation of taxis and autorickshaws.

It said Metro rail services, schools, colleges will remain closed till May end. Also, all regular domestic, international air travel of passengers except domestic air ambulance and evacuation flights will remain prohibited during this period.

The Centre has opened sports complexes and stadia but banned entry of spectators.

Taking a view of limited air services opened for bringing stranded Indians home and taking people through trains, it allowed running of canteens at airports, bus depots and railway stations.

Restaurants shall be also allowed to operate their kitchen for home delivery of food items.

The Centre made it clear that all necessary standard operating procedures which includes social distancing, wearing of masks, availability of sanitiser must be ensured.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the Centre’s guidelines are largely in line with the proposal sent by his government and that a detailed plan to ease restrictions in the national capital will be announced on Monday.

In a statement, the Delhi government said it expects a slight increase in cases when the economy reopens and Delhi is prepared to deal with it. “We have always been saying that we all will now have to learn to live with Corona,” it said, as the national capital inched towards 10,000 COVID-19 cases.

The country recorded the highest single day spike of 4,987 new cases as the total climbed to 90,927 and also 120 more fatalities to take the death toll to 2,872, according to the Union Health Ministry. The previous highest single day increase was on May 11 when 4,213 cases were reported.

India is now in the 11th position in the overall number of cases among countries with the US (nearly 15 lakh cases) topping the tally, according to the Johns Hopkins University data.

The number of active COVID-19 cases stands at 53,946, while 34,108 people have recovered and one patient has migrated, it said.

According to a PTI tally based on reports from state health departments, the total cases stood at 94,887 while the death toll was 2,907 and recoveries at 2,907.

The union health ministry data updated in the morning showed the highest number of confirmed cases in the country are from Maharashtra at 30,706, followed by Gujarat (10,988), Tamil Nadu (10,585), Delhi( 9,333). Rajasthan (4,960), Madhya Pradesh (4,789) and Uttar Pradesh( 4,258) were the other states accounting for over 4,000 cases.

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said the doubling time of coronavirus infections in India has improved to 13.6 days in the last three days from 11.5 in the past 14 days, The fatality rate is down to 3.1 per cent and the recovery rate has improved to 37.5 per cent, he said.

Elaborating on his point that the spread of the infection in the country has been slow, Vardhan said coronavirus cases in India reached the 80,000 mark in 106 days while developed nations such as the UK, Italy, Spain, Germany and the US took 44-66 days to reach that mark.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the five-part stimulus together with the March 26 announcement of free foodgrains and cooking gas to poor and some cash to vulnerable sections for three months and RBI's Rs 8.01 lakh crore worth of liquidity measures would take the size of the COVID-19 economic package to Rs 20.97 lakh crore.

The coronavirus outbreak in jails with Jaipur accounting for a large chunk also sparked worries of new cluster cases.

Nearly 150 inmates in Jaipur’s district and central jail have tested positive for COVID-19 after a prisoner who came in early April was the source of infection.

Authorities in several states have already released thousands of prisoners on parole or bail to decongest crowded prisons in the country to try halt the spread of the infection in closed settings. More number of prisoners are expected to be released in the coming days.

As thousands of migrants from several pockets continued to walk long distances to reach their natives states, some of them indulged in violence in Gujarat. Migrant workers demanding immediate travel arrangements hurled stones at the police and damaged vehicles on a national highway near Rajkot in Gujarat, police said.

Some police personnel and a local journalist were injured in the incident that occurred in Shapar area near Rajkot, about 215 kms away from Ahmedabad.

The Railways also said only ‘Shramik Specials’, other special trains, and parcel and freight services will operate during the fourth phase of the lockdown.PTI ACB NES SKL PLB ASG SDA PD VT DP ANZ VGN GSN GSN GSN