Apprehension is the mood in the air as India eases quarantine restrictions in some parts of the country.
With the exception of containment zones, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has announced a phased relaxation of quarantine measures in what is being termed “Unlock 1.0.” This is despite India recording 8,392 new infections between Sunday, May 31st and the morning of Monday, June 1st. Containment zones will see quarantine remain in place until June 30th.
Relaxation commences on Monday, more than two months since quarantine was first announced in late March. The loosening comes even though India’s 8,392 spike in cases is the second consecutive day of India reporting more than 8,000 cases of COVID-19 – the disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), commonly referred to simply as the coronavirus.
At the time of writing, COVID-19 has claimed 5,415 lives in India with 191,605 confirmed coronavirus infections. India currently ranks seventh in the world for confirmed coronavirus cases and fourth in the world for active infections, with 94,145 active cases of COVID-19.
The loosening of quarantine measures in non-containment zones will occur in three phases. The first phase, effective from June 8th, will permit the reopening of places of worship, hospitality businesses such as hotels and restaurants, and shopping malls. The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare will issue standard operating procedures for the same, “in consultation with the Central Ministries/ Departments concerned and other stakeholders, for ensuring social distancing and to contain the spread of COVID-19.”
The second phase will see the decision concerning the reopening of educational institutions. This will follow “consultations with States and UTs [union territories]. State Governments/ UT administrations may hold consultations at the institution level with parents and other stakeholders. Based on the feedback, a decision on the re-opening of these institutions will be taken in the month of July.”
The third phase will see an assessment for permitting international air travel; metro rail; entertainment facilities such as cinemas, theatres, entertainment parks and auditoriums; exercise facilities such as gyms and swimming baths; and similar facilities. It will also see a decision made concerning the resumption of “social/ political/ sports/ entertainment/ academic/ cultural/ religious functions and other large congregations.”
The Government has announced that “there shall be no restriction on inter-state and intra-state movement of persons and goods. No separate permission/ approval/ e-permit will be required for such movements.” However, curfews will remain in place: “movement of individuals shall remain strictly prohibited between 9.00 pm to 5.00 am throughout the country, except for essential activities.”
In the interest of public health, “states/ UTS, based on their assessment of the situation, may prohibit certain activities outside the containment zones, or impose such restrictions as deemed necessary.” Already, Tamil Nadu has announced it will extend quarantine restrictions until June 30th, whilst Andhra Pradesh will not loosen restrictions on inter-state travel. Delhi will continue to seal its borders for a seven-day period. The MHA note advises that “if a state/ UT, based on reasons of public health and its assessment of the situation, proposes to regulate movement of persons, it will be give [sic] wide publicity in advance regarding the restrictions to be placed on such movement, and the related to procedures to be followed.”