NEW DELHI :
India on Sunday extended the national lockdown by two weeks till 31 May even as it opened up red zones to economic activities and permitted transportation within and across states as the government attempts to strike a balance between combating the virus and limiting economic damage from one of the world’s longest community shutdowns.
While the norms for the fourth phase of lockdown starting Monday allows opening up of red zones, containment zones will continue to remain out of bounds to all non-essential movement. Inter-state and intra-state movement of passenger vehicles and buses will also be barred only in containment zones. Restaurants will be allowed to offer home delivery of food. E-commerce activities, including non-essentials, are permitted in red, orange and green zones.
The lockdown since 25 March, which entered its 55th day on Monday, has battered the economy and dealt a severe blow to daily wagers and the poor, posing a serious challenge for the Narendra Modi administration.
The government has announced a ₹21 trillion package to help the affected, including migrant workers, small businesses and the self-employed, besides unveiling a series of reforms aimed at making the economy more agile.
The new lockdown guidelines have also given a breather to store owners across the country, with markets now set to reopen. While the Union home ministry had earlier said that only standalone shops could remain functional, the new guidelines pave the way for market places to resume operations.
While relaxations have significantly increased in the current guidelines, state governments will now decide on the “delineation of red, green and orange zones, after taking into consideration parameters" shared by the Union health ministry.
Non-containment zones will now once again witness the movement of non-essential e-commerce deliveries, reopening of shops, as well as the movement of autorickshaws and buses, subject to the state government’s permission. Air transport and metro services will, however, continue to remain suspended.
While the guidelines enable government and private offices to resume work fully, subject to social distancing and sanitation norms, the Centre has advised that the “practice of work from home should be followed".
However, continuing its vigilance, the Union home ministry on Sunday reiterated that air and metro rail transport, along with schools, restaurants, cinema halls and shopping malls, will continue to remain closed.
While the Union government had earlier forbidden any non-essential movement in red zones, it now said within red and orange zones, “containment and buffer zones will be demarcated by district authorities after taking into consideration the guidelines" published by the health ministry.
The home ministry has asked states to continue aggressive contact tracing and house-to-house surveillance in containment zones. However, keeping with its earlier guidelines, the Centre said the curfew, which was earlier observed from 7pm to 7am, will continue to remain in force across the country. The Centre has stated categorically that “all other activities will be permitted, except those that are specifically prohibited," in non-containment zones.
Guidelines for evacuation of Indians stranded abroad, along with the movement of essential and non-essential goods across state borders will continue, the home ministry said.
Gireesh Chandra Prasad contributed to this story.