Centre Deliberates Over States' Push for Extended Lockdown, Staggered Exits

Union minister Rajnath Singh also chaired a meeting on COVID-19 and discussed ways to renew operations in the farming sector.

New Delhi: As the 21-day nationwide lockdown nears its end on Tuesday, April 14, several states have indicated that restrictions should be extended beyond the deadline.

“The central government is thinking on the same lines, but the Prime Minister will take a final call after considering all aspects and holding discussions with experts. We are sure that every state will follow the decision he takes,” sources told the Indian Express.

On Tuesday, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan hinted at extending the lockdown in the state. “In view of the circumstances in Bhopal and Indore, we should be very careful. Given that if the need arises, we will extend it (lockdown) further as the lives of the people are most important for us,” the chief minister said.

On Monday, Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to extend the national lockdown beyond April 14. “I am for the lockdown of the country furthermore after April 15. Because we can recover from the economic problem but we cannot recover lives,” he told reporters in Hyderabad.

Maharashtra public health minister Rajesh Tope has cautioned people against assuming that the lockdown would be completely lifted on April 15. He hinted that cities like Mumbai and Pune, which have seen a higher number of COVID-19 cases, may be placed under an extended lockdown. “There is a protocol to relaxing the lockdown and it will be followed. Also, the Union government issues advisories to states. Those will be studied and then a decision will be taken,” he said.

Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray has also said that lifting the lockdown in the state depended on the compliance by people to the government directives.

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Sources within the government have said that several states had pitched for an extension of the lockdown. Lav Aggarwal, joint secretary, health, referred to an ICMR study to note that in the absence of social distancing or lockdown, a patient could infect as many as 406 people in 20 days.

Vice President Venkaiah Naidu said that people should abide by “whatever decision follows and cooperate with the same spirit that has so far been demonstrated even if hardship were to continue after April 14”.

“Let’s live with the hardship a little longer for a better tomorrow,” he said in a statement on Tuesday

The Uttar Pradesh government has also indicated that it intends to extend the lockdown beyond April 14 citing the increase in coronavirus positive cases in the state. Additional chief secretary home department Awanish Awasthi said that chances of lifting the lockdown on April 15 were slim.

The state government of Bihar has also suggested that a staggered exit from the lockdown will be adopted for the state. “We are considering various state-specific factors while finalising the exit plan for the lockdown,” state chief secretary Deepak Kumar told the Times of India.

In Rajasthan, chief minister Ashok Gehlot stressed that the lockdown and the restrictions imposed could not be removed abruptly. “We cannot withdraw lockdown immediately,” Gehlot said. “It has to be done in a phased manner, that is what I feel.”

Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar has also called for the lockdown to be lifted in phases. “We will follow Central Govt directives regarding the lockdown. As the disease is increasing day by day, we can’t say anything now on ending or continuing lockdown,” Khattar said.

An expert committee set up the state government of Kerala submitted a report to the state government on Monday that said that the time was “not yet ripe for full withdrawal” of the lockdown on April 14.

Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma, in a Facebook live on Wednesday, said that the government would continue to function in isolation mode after April 14. Sangma also stressed that the government was trying to balance the health and economic concerns of people. The state chief minister also took questions during the Facebook live and said that no outsiders would be allowed to come into the state and inter-state movement will not take place.

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Chattisgarh health minister T.S. Singh Deo told The Hindu that, “looking at the expected spikes in cases, we must go for another 14 days of lockdown at least”.

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh has also conveyed to the Centre that lifting of the lockdown must be carried out in three to four phases. “There should be a partial lifting of the lockdown in a graded and calibrated manner. Allow farmers to harvest their crops but keep schools and colleges closed. Allow scooters and two wheelers to ply first,” a senior Punjab government official said.

In the meantime, defence minister Rajnath Singh headed an informal Group of Ministers (GoM) meeting on COVID-19 and discussed ways to renew operations in the farming sector. “This is the harvest season, and the focus is on how to smoothen the process,” sources told the Indian Express.

“It is not as if the disease has affected the whole country – it is just 284 districts so far, not even half the country. So it is perhaps safe to say that about 60% of the country can hope to see some relaxation after April 14. It cannot be business as usual. But at the same time, the stringent restrictions cannot continue indefinitely,” they said.