The Centre on Monday issued guidelines for the second of a three-phase plan aimed at lifting restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), announcing that educational institutions, Metro rail services and large gatherings will continue to remain banned, even as the night curfew was relaxed by an hour to aid economic activity.
The Union home ministry released the plan, called Unlock 2, to open up more activities in areas outside containment zones, an official statement said. The new guidelines, which will come into effect from July 1, are based on feedback received from states, and consultations with central ministries and departments, it added. The current phase to ease restrictions, called Unlock 1, ends on Tuesday.
After 68 days under a lockdown to halt the spread of Covid-19, the country began opening up widely last month, but with significant restrictions. On Monday, India reported 18,318 fresh Covid-19 cases, taking the tally of infections to 567,344. There have been 16,901 deaths from the infectious disease so far.
The fresh guidelines said schools, colleges and coaching institutions will remain closed till July 31. It added that Metro rail, cinema halls, gymnasiums, swimming pools, entertainment parks, theatres, bars, auditoriums, assembly halls and similar places will also remain shut. Social, political, sports, entertainment, academic, cultural, religious functions and other large congregations will also continue to be banned.
“Dates for opening of these will be decided separately, based on the assessment of the situation,” the Centre said.
In another significant step, the Union government relaxed the night curfew prohibiting non-essential travel. The ban on such movement will be between 10pm and 5am. Previously, it was between 9pm and 5am. “Relaxations in night curfew have been given for seamless operation of industrial units in multiple shifts, movement of persons and goods on National and State Highways, loading and unloading of cargo and movement of persons to their destinations after disembarking from buses, trains and airplanes,” the guidelines said.
Domestic and international flights (under the Vande Bharat exercise) and passenger trains, already operational in a limited manner, will be further expanded in a calibrated manner, the home ministry said.
“Lockdown shall continue to be implemented strictly in the containment zones till July 31,” the government’s advisory said. Within the containment zones, strict perimeter control will be maintained and only essential activities are allowed.
Shortly after the guidelines were released on Monday night, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he will address the nation at 4pm on Tuesday.
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The government has said that the plan to unlock the country has an “economic focus”, as it looks to bring stalled businesses and activities back on track. Shops, depending on their area, can have more than five people at a time, the government said on Monday night. “However, they have to maintain adequate physical distance.”
Training institutions of the central and state governments will be allowed to function with effect from July 15. The standard operating procedure in this regard will be issued by the department of personnel and training.
Union home secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote to chief secretaries, saying they were not allowed to dilute the guidelines of “Unlock 2”. “..States/UTs cannot dilute restrictions issued by the MHA. States/UTs, based on their assessment, may prohibit certain activities in areas outside containment zones, or impose such restrictions as deemed necessary. However, there shall be no restriction on inter-state and intra-state movement of persons and goods including those for cross border trade under treaties with neighboring countries.”
“I would urge you to ensure compliance of Unlock 2.0 guidelines and direct all authorities for their strict implementation,” Bhalla said in his letter.
The government has so far allowed the functioning of public and private offices in a graded manner, resumed limited passenger train services and domestic air travel, and also allowed the conditional reopening of shops and marketplaces. Restrictions on public transport too have been considerably eased.