Home / Politics / Policy /  Covid curbs to end, but use of masks to continue

NEW DELHI : The Union government revoked the provisions of the Disaster Management Act for containing the coronavirus pandemic after two years amid a sharp drop in covid cases in the country. However, the use of face masks and social distancing norms would need to be followed.

On Wednesday, the home ministry directed all states and Union territories to “consider appropriately discontinuing issue of orders and guidelines under the DM Act, 2005, for covid containment measures." The provisions of the Act were invoked for the first time in March 2020.

Following the home ministry communication, Union health and family welfare secretary Rajesh Bhushan, in a letter to all state chief secretaries and UT administrators, issued directions to start resuming economic and social activities.

The revoking of the provisions of the Act will encourage social and economic activity, including the opening of schools and offices. Economic activity has already picked up pace, as reflected in goods and services tax and advance tax collections as cases declined. Only 1,778 new cases were reported in the past 24 hours, and the number of active cases fell to 23,087, according to the health ministry.

With the pandemic bringing India and the world to a standstill, the home ministry has been issuing orders and guidelines since 24 March 2020 on the direction of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). India reported more than 43 million covid cases and around 517,000 deaths in the past two years.

Bhushan wrote that there is a need to follow a risk assessment-based approach to opening economic and social activities without losing the gains made so far in the fight against the pandemic. He directed the states and UTs to make evidence-based decision making while resuming economic activities within their jurisdiction.

“States need to watch the trajectory of cases in particular geographies to ensure that the areas reporting positivity rate above 10% and bed occupancy more than 40% on either oxygen supported or ICU beds should undertake required enforcement, containment, and restriction measures," he wrote.

Bhushan, in his communication, said social, sports, entertainment, academic, cultural, religious, festival related, and other gatherings may be resumed. He said that academic institutions can resume offline classes without curbs. These institutions may, however, also use a mix of online and offline modes, he added.

“Relaxing several covid curbs is a logical step at this time, given the drop in the number of cases. However, we must ensure this does not lead to complacency among citizens. It is important that we continue to follow covid-appropriate behaviour and continue to get vaccinated at the earliest," said Poonam Muttreja, executive director of Population Foundation of India.

“Scientists and researchers have not ruled out the possibility of a fourth wave, and we are seeing surges in cases in several parts of the world. Thus, relaxation of curbs must be accompanied by an increase in precaution," Muttreja added.

The government plans to open up covid-19 booster doses to all adults, scaling up the vaccine roll-out that will make tens of millions more eligible for the precautionary jabs, as reported by Mint earlier. The expansion in the roll-out will mean anyone who is 18 years or older will be eligible.

In a 22 March communication to chief secretaries of all states, Union home secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote, “Over the last 24 months, significant capacities have been developed for various aspects of management of the pandemic, such as diagnostics, surveillance, contact tracing, treatment and vaccination, hospital infrastructure, and the general public has a much higher level of awareness on covid-appropriate behaviour. States and UTs have also developed own capacities and systems and implemented detailed state/UT specific plans for managing the pandemic."

Nearly 1.8 billion vaccine doses have been administered under the nationwide vaccination drive.

On 3 March, the health ministry’s scientific committee authorized boosters for everyone above 60 years of age. Also, the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has recommended reducing the gap between the first and second doses of the Covishield vaccine to 8-16 weeks from 12-16 weeks. Vaccination was opened up for 12–14-year-old children from 16 March.

“After taking into consideration the overall improvement in the situation and preparedness of the government to deal with the pandemic, NDMA has taken a decision that there may not be any further need to invoke the provisions of the DM Act for covid containment measures," the home ministry’s communication added.

“Marriages and funeral rites may be allowed. All shopping complexes, cinema halls, restaurants and bars, sports complexes, gyms, spas, swimming pools and religious places may be allowed to operate at full capacity. Public transport (railways, metros, buses, cabs) can operate without capacity restrictions. There shall be no restrictions on interstate and intrastate movement. All offices may function without capacity restrictions," Bhushan said in his letter, adding that all industrial and scientific establishments may be allowed now.


Priyanka Sharma

Priyanka Shamra is a health and pharma journalist with nearly nine years of field reporting experience. She is a special correspondent with Mint. Her beat includes covering the Ministry of Health and Department of Pharmaceuticals. She also covers the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Department of Biotechnology.
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