The Centre is expected to announce over the weekend the contours of the fourth phase of the lockdown, which was first put in place on March 25 to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.
Markets, malls, public transport, including the Delhi Metro, and all offices should be allowed to open with reduced footfall and staggered operations, Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has said in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, even as states sent in their recommendations to the Union government on how the country should emerge from the current phase of the lockdown.
The Centre is expected to announce over the weekend the contours of the fourth phase of the lockdown, which was first put in place on March 25 to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak. It may give states more say in what rules on restrictions should be in place beginning next week.
“We want restrictions in containment zones to stay as they are, but most economic activities should now be allowed elsewhere. Social distancing and wearing masks should be made mandatory. We believe the relaxations will lead to a rise in Covid-19 infections, but we have prepared for it by making adequate arrangements for hospitals, ventilators, oxygen requirements, ambulances, ICUs, etc,” said Kejriwal.
“We have followed centre’s rules entirely and will work with the Union government in the fight ahead,” the CM said in his closing remarks in Thursday’s letter, which accompanied a detailed set of recommendations.
Among the key relaxations is the suggestion to allow public transport. Metro services should be allowed to resume but must allow only people working in government offices during morning and evening office hours, while essential services workers or those with movement passes from district authorities can only travel between 10.30am and 5.30pm, the letter suggested, proposing that the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation make arrangements to leave a seat vacant in between.
Auto-rickshaws, buses, cabs (including aggregators such as Ola and Uber), can operate but with reduced capacities. For auto- and cycle-rickshaws, only one passenger will be allowed. Taxis and cabs can seat two in addition to the driver. Buses should carry not more than 20 people, the recommendations said.
Movement of people should be prohibited (unless for essential service) between 9pm and 5am, the Delhi government suggested, and added that parks and playgrounds should be allowed to open with no contact sport being permitted.
At present, people are allowed to go out only between 7am and 7pm, unless they are going to a grocery store or a chemist – which are included in essential activities.
For offices, the CM suggested that those who can work from home should continue doing so but offices can reopen with 50% staff. All employees must wear masks, and mandatorily download the Aarogya Setu mobile application. The Delhi government has so far not issued any advisory on the app, which has been criticised for possibly being a risk to people’s privacy.
“All markets and market complexes shall remain open on odd-even basis, that is, shops would open on alternate days depending on their shop number… However, shops selling essential goods, books and stationery shops and fans shops are permitted to open on all days,” the letter added.
According to an official who asked not to be named, the complete relaxation for shops selling fans will also cover those selling air-conditioners and air coolers, since the city – as the rest of the country – is now heading into peak summer months.
For malls, the number of shops allowed to open on any day must not exceed 33%, the proposal said, putting the onus on mall managements to enforce the protocol.
School, salons, spas, barber shops, cinema halls, hotels and dine-in services at restaurants and cafes should continue to be prohibited, it said.
On some of the recommendations, such as reviving Delhi’s public transport in a way that ensures social distancing during commute, the government has already started drafting standard operating procedures (SOP), said Delhi’s revenue and transport minister Kailash Gahlot.
The letter was sent to the Prime Minister after Kejriwal met Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal for a thorough discussion on Thursday evening. Baijal had directed the government to start preparing SOPs starting with three areas – transport, reopening of markets and malls, and construction and industrial activities, said a senior official privy to the developments of the meeting.
During what was his fourth address to the nation since the Covid-19 crisis began, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday night that the new phase of the lockdown — lockdown 4.0 — would assume new contours and be based on new rules. “States are giving us their inputs and advice. Based on that, all details about lockdown will be provided before May 18.” He said that he had complete faith that while abiding by rules, the country would both battle the disease and move forward.
The need to reopen has become increasingly acute as economic indicators reflect a complete erosion of earnings. Several market associations have begun discussions to strategise how they will reopen and ensure social distancing, a practice of keeping at least a 2 metre distance between individuals.
“Once the market opens, we have decided to keep only two entry points for customers, where there will be hand sanitisers and temperature screening. We will also put up boards saying only those who want to buy should enter the market zone. Social distancing will be of utmost importance. Those accompanying them can wait outside. It is crucial for markets to open now. People have suffered massive losses,” said Ashok Randhawa, president of the Sarojini Nagar mini-market traders association.
The Lajpat Nagar traders’ association too has held meetings and decided to enforce new rules for what is one of the largest and most crowded markets in the capital. “We will put up an SOP at the shops. No one will be allowed without being checked by thermal scanner. Also in shops that measure less than 100 sq m, we will not allow more than two customers at one time,” said Ashwani Marwah, general secretary of the association.
Health experts said reopening markets is important and necessary but the responsibility to ensure that Covid-19 does not spread falls on shoppers as well as shopkeepers.
Jugal Kishore, head of the department of community medicine at the Safdarjung Hospital, said all shoppers must wear masks before going to the market. “People have to behave responsibly. If one has a sore throat, fever or any type of symptoms, they must avoid going to the market. People must change their lifestyle. They must visit the markets only if it is absolutely necessary. Contrary to what many believe, markets are low-risk areas like an OPD in a hospital.”
A senior police official, asking not to be named, said the Delhi Police is also likely to book fewer people over social distancing violations from May 18 in case the government decides on scaling down restrictions. This is because enforcing social distancing is likely to take up a disproportionate amount of resources, this person added.