Monday, 30th October 2017

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Centre for lockdown in 75 districts

Lockdown on all but essential services

By G.S. Mudur in New Delhi
  • Published 23.03.20, 6:12 AM
  • Updated 23.03.20, 6:29 AM
  • 3 mins read
  •  

Almost all states and Union Territories in India have been brought under a lockdown in a concerted effort to break the chain of transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Passenger and suburban trains, Metro and inter-state bus services have been suspended across the country until March 31.

The Centre, apparently enthused by the response to the “Janata (people’s) Curfew” call by the Prime Minister, recommended during the day a lockdown on all but essential services in 75 districts in 22 states and Union Territories.

By nightfall, several states that were not part of the central list had announced lockdowns on their own (see map on Page 6). Only a few states and Union Territories remain without a lockdown now.

The fresh curbs, designed to further restrict people’s movements, will amplify social-distancing measures already in place in parts of the country amid concerns that coronavirus-infected domestic travellers might unknowingly seed fresh clusters in new areas.

The Centre on Sunday, after a meeting with state officials, asked states to allow “only essential services” to operate in 75 districts, including Calcutta and North 24-Parganas in Bengal, which have reported either coronavirus patients or coronavirus deaths.

The lockdown will also affect 10 districts each in Kerala and Maharashtra, seven in Delhi, and six in Uttar Pradesh. However, state governments may expand the list depending on their assessment of the situation, a senior health ministry official said.

“These are temporary measures but extremely vital to break the chain of transmission,” Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the health ministry, said.

The focus of the lockdown will be on the closure of all activities except for essential services such as hospitals, telecom, medicine and provision stores.

The health ministry by Sunday evening had recorded 396 confirmed coronavirus patients in the country and seven deaths, the latest from Maharashtra, Bihar and Gujarat. Another death in Patna is under investigation for suspected link to the Covid-19.

The Indian Railways announced that all premium, mail, express, passenger and suburban trains and Metro services would be suspended from March 22 midnight until March 31.

Passengers can claim full refunds for the cancelled trains through a “hassle-free” refund process until June 26, the railways said.

Trains that had already commenced their journey before 4am on March 22 will continue to their destinations, the railways said. Goods trains will continue to run.

The Centre has also announced a suspension of all inter-state bus services.

The new restrictions follow the nationwide Janata Curfew on Sunday requested by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for which, central government officials said, the response has been overwhelming. These new temporary restrictions are a natural and logical extension of the Janata Curfew, Agarwal said.

“Preventing the movement of people is critical to breaking the transmission of the virus,” said Oommen John, a public health specialist at The George Institute for Global Health, New Delhi.

“Infected persons could seed the virus in new areas —unfortunately, it’s possible this has already happened.”

Eight passengers who had travelled from Delhi to Ramagundam (Telangana) on the AP Sampark Kranti Express on March 13 and four passengers who had travelled from Mumbai to Jabalpur on the Godan Express on March 16 have tested positive for the coronavirus, the railway ministry said on Saturday.

District-level surveillance authorities are trying to look for other passengers in the two trains who might have had contact with those 12 passengers during their journey.

The lockdown on districts and shutdown of travel services come amid indications from an infectious disease modelling study that without quick detection and isolation of coronavirus positive cases or additional social-distancing measures, up to 70 per cent of Indians could become infected by the virus.

Districts with a large number of persons under surveillance for coronavirus — such as contacts of positive cases or travellers — could also consider imposing similar lockdowns, the official said.

The Centre has also requested states to take steps to “minimise the discomfort” to the poor and disadvantaged sections of society while the lockdown is in place.

During the lockdown in the affected districts, establishments and organisations involved in the production and distribution of essential commodities such as medicines, vaccines, sanitisers, masks and medical devices will be exempt from the lockdown orders, the Centre said.

In Delhi, the state health department passed an order on Sunday shutting down all shops, offices, commercial establishments and religious places, and prohibiting all public transport, including private buses, taxis, autorickshaws or electric rickshaws, up to March 31.

People have been asked to stay home and come out only for essential services and remain in the vicinity of their homes while always observing social-distancing guidelines.

The Delhi government said Delhi Transport Corporation buses would run at 25 per cent capacity only for persons engaged in essential services.