Govt mulls a phased unwinding of the 21-day lockdown, general guidelines likely today
NEW DELHI/MUMBAI : The Union government is looking at a phased unwinding of the 21-day lockdown that has shuttered businesses and brought life to a standstill and has sought suggestions from states to evolve a common approach to lift the curbs gradually.
The decision to involve states to evolve a strategy to end the restrictions was articulated during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s video conference with state chief ministers on Thursday. States were asked to set up task forces to make suggestions for a gradual lifting of lockdown in the meeting that lasted for around two-and-a-half hours.
The Centre will issue a so-called standard operating protocol to states on Friday, providing rough guidelines on how to lift the restrictions. “At the video conference with the prime minister, states were asked to give their suggestions on which services should be allowed to function first and for which restrictions can be lifted later,” a Maharashtra state government official said, requesting anonymity.
Cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba on Monday denied that India’s three-week nationwide lockdown to contain the covid-19 outbreak would be extended.
“States have been asked to weigh in as every state has different requirements, specific hotspots and individual sets of concerns, necessitating the need for them to evolve their own specific approach. They have to submit their suggestion about how they may might want to lift the lockdown shortly,” a state government official who attended the meeting said on condition of anonymity.
Prime Minister Modi is set to share a message with people on Friday morning; his third address since 19 March on the coronavirus pandemic that has now killed 66 Indians and infected 2,423.
“The Prime Minister said that it is important to formulate a common exit strategy to ensure staggered re-emergence of the population once the lockdown ends. He asked states to brainstorm and send suggestions for the exit strategy,” the Union government said in a statement.
This comes against the backdrop of India facing a humanitarian crisis with many migrant workers trudging hundreds of miles from the cities to their homes as the lockdown has rendered them jobless.
“Our goal is to ensure minimum loss of life,” Modi said, according to the statement.
Apart from chief ministers, home ministers, health ministers, chief secretaries, home secretaries and health secretaries of the states, the meeting was also attended by defence minister Rajnath Singh, health minister Harsh Vardhan, principal secretary P.K. Mishra, cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba, home secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla and Indian Council of Medical Research’s director general Balram Bhargava.
“The Prime Minister said that state governments should not lift the lockdown immediately from 15 April but it should happen in phases. Precautions should be taken that there is no crowding,” Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said in a tweet.
“Next few days are critical to see if there is any further transmission there,” said a third senior government official familiar with the developments in Maharashtra.
India, home to a fifth of the world’s population, saw its manufacturing sector growth slow to a four-month low in March as economic activity slumped, according to manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index for India.
On Monday, S&P Global Ratings cut its estimate for India’s GDP growth to 3.5% from its earlier estimate of 5.2%, as it expects the damage to the economy from the pandemic for the Asia-Pacific region to be as severe as the one during the financial crisis of 1997-98.