Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday told the Chief Ministers that while the lockdown following the COVID-19 outbreak had yielded “positive results” and that the country had managed to “save thousands of lives in the past one and a half months” the danger of the virus was far from over and “constant vigilance is of paramount importance”.
The signal to the States, many of whom had asked for an extension of the lockdown, was clear — that any exit from the lockdown would be graded, and take into account case load and virulence.
The decision to extend the lockdown itself, sources said, would be taken around May 3.
Mr. Modi was addressing a videoconference with the Chief Ministers of all the States, with the exception of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who said that they would want an extension of the lockdown at least in areas still designated as a “red zones” of greater virulence.
According to those present at the meeting, the Prime Minister, after speaking to the Chief Ministers (nine of whom spoke, while several others sent written submissions), was of the opinion that while economic activity was important, it would be undertaken with some reservations, only within districts and with several caveats. “We have to be brave and bring in reforms that touch the lives of common citizens,” he said.
Conversion of zones
Mr. Modi emphasised that all efforts should be made to convert the red zones (where cases have occurred in the last 14 days) to orange (where cases have not occurred in 14 days) to green zones (where no cases have occurred in 28 days).
“The States should decide minute policies for the three zones. Hotspots and containment areas would continue to remain sealed,” he reportedly said.
“The country has seen two lockdowns till now, both different in certain aspects and now we have to think of the way ahead. Masks and face covers will become a way of life for us in the days ahead and under the circumstances, everyone’s aim must be rapid response,” he noted.
The Chief Ministers of Goa, Odisha, Meghalaya and several others had asked for an extension of the lockdown with some relaxations for economic activities within district boundaries. Odisha asked for an extension till June 3, with time being given to the State governments to bring back migrant workers from their States back to their own.
On this issue, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar asked for a clear countrywide policy. Several States have facilitated the return of migrant labourers from their States and even students stuck in other States, while Bihar had stuck to the old policy of the lockdown, which was to tell people to stay where they are. “Now that several States have started bringing back their people, we want a uniform policy for this,” he reportedly said. He also sought more testing kits as well as personal protection equipment (PPE) for medical and front line workers.
Mr. Modi, while emphasising that the restart of economic activity was important, emphasised that the fundamentals of the economy continued to be strong. On the issue of getting back Indians stuck overseas, he said it “had to be done keeping in mind the fact that they don’t get inconvenienced, and their families are not under any risk.”
Several reports suggested earlier last week that the process of evacuating the Indians stuck abroad may begin after May 3.
This was the fourth videoconference held by Prime Minister Modi with Chief Ministers. It was also attended by Union Home Minister Amit Shah and several officials of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
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