In a significant directive, the home ministry said that state governments shall not impose any local lockdown outside the containment zones without prior consultation with the central government. This bears significance as sporadic and weekend lockdowns have been implemented by various state governments across the country. The coronavirus-induced nationwide lockdown was first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from March 25 and it was extended in phases till May 31. The Unlock process of the country had begun on June 1 with the graded reopening of commercial, social, religious and other activities.
Under the Unlock 4 phase, social, academic, sports, entertainment, cultural, religious, political functions and other congregations will be permitted with a ceiling of 100 people, with effect from September 21. However, such limited gatherings can be held with the mandatory wearing of face masks, social distancing and provision for thermal scanning and hand wash or sanitiser. The permission to hold political and other gatherings came ahead of the Bihar assembly elections, which are due in October-November.
The home ministry said that after extensive consultation with states and UTs, it has been decided that schools, colleges, educational and coaching institutions will continue to remain closed for students and regular class activity up to September 30. Online or distance learning shall continue to be permitted and shall be encouraged. The ministry said that states and union territory governments may permit up to 50 per cent of teaching and non-teaching staff to be called to 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. Cinema halls, swimming pools, entertainment parks, theatres and similar places will remain shut and international air travel of passengers, except as permitted by the MHA, will not be allowed. Open-air theatres will be permitted to open with effect from September 21. Metro rail services, which have been suspended since March 22, will be allowed to resume with effect from September 7 in a graded manner, by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MOHUA) and the Ministry of Railways (MOR), in consultation with the MHA. In this regard, standard operating procedure (SOP) will be issued by the MOHUA.
Sources said the SOPs for running the metro trains have already been circulated and will be discussed on September 1 through video conference by the MOHUA with all metro companies and finalised. All MDs have been asked to look into SOPs prepared by the MOHUA earlier in view of the current realities. All suggestions will be considered in the video conference and accordingly SOPs will be finalised, the sources said. Unlock 4 will come into effect from September 1 and will continue till September 30. The new guidelines are based on feedback received from the states and UTs, and extensive consultations held with related central ministries and departments, the home ministry said.
Skill or entrepreneurship training will be permitted in National Skill Training Institutes, Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs). Higher education institutions only for research scholars (PhD) and post-graduate students of technical and professional programmes requiring laboratory and experimental works will be permitted by the Department of Higher Education (DHE) in consultation with the MHA, based on the assessment of the situation, and keeping in view incidence of COVID-19 in states and UTs.
Lockdown shall continue to be implemented strictly in the containment zones till September 30. There will be no restriction on inter-state and intra-state movement of persons and goods. No separate permission, approval, e-permit will be required for such movements. Vulnerable persons, i.e., persons above 65 years of age, persons with co-morbidities, pregnant women, and children below the age of 10 years, are advised to stay at home, except for meeting essential requirements and for health purposes, the home ministry said. The use of Aarogya Setu mobile application will continue to be encouraged, it said.
India’s COVID-19 tally raced past 34 lakh on Saturday with a single-day spike of 76,472 cases, while the number of recoveries surged to 26,48,998, pushing the recovery rate to 76.47 per cent, according to the Union health ministry. The total number of COVID-19 cases rose to 34,63,972, while the death toll due to the disease climbed to 62,550 with 1,021 more people succumbing to it in a span of 24 hours, the ministry’s data updated at 8 AM showed.