By Sarwar Kashani
New Delhi, May 1 (efe-epa).- India on Friday extended by two more weeks the nationwide lockdown put in place to contain the coronavirus outbreak amid a steady rise in the number of Covid-19 infections and deaths in the world’s second-most populous country.
The lockdown, which started first at midnight on Mar. 25 and later extended for about three weeks on Apr.14, was to end on May 3 in the country of 1.3 billion people.
However, the government this time allowed “considerable relaxations” in lower-risk areas designated as green and orange zones under the new guidelines to fight the disease outbreak, which, according to Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker, has claimed over 1,150 lives and infected more than 35,000 people.
An official statement said the authorities decided to “further extend the lockdown” after a comprehensive review” of the restrictions that caused “significant gains” in curbing the spread of the virus.
The new guidelines were issued to regulate activities during this period in the areas mapped into the red (hotspot), green, and orange zones based on risk profiling of districts.
The statement said the classifications would be dynamic and updated at least weekly as situation changes. A red zone to move to the green for the lifting of restrictions will have to report no new infections for three weeks.
The red zones include the biggest and economically most important cities – New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Ahmedabad – that would continue under strict lockdown.
The government relaxed certain restrictions in districts classified as green and orange zones.
Red zones comprise of places with major outbreaks while as green zones are the districts with zero confirmed cases so far or no confirmed case in the last 21 days. The districts that are neither red nor green are orange zones.
A limited number of activities would remain prohibited throughout the country, irrespective of the zone.
These include a ban on travel by air, rail, metro, and inter-state by road, educational institutions, and hospitality services, social, political, cultural, and religious gatherings.
There will be no restriction on the movement of goods between states and on the manufacturing and distribution of essential items, the ministry said.
However, health services will be permitted to operate with social distancing norms and other safety precautions.
In the green zones, all activities are allowed except the limited number of activities that are prohibited throughout the country, irrespective of the zone. Buses can operate with up to 50 percent seating capacity and bus depots can operate with up to 50 percent capacity.
The lockdown that completes its six weeks this weekend has been devastating for India’s economy, third-largest in Asia.
The worst-hit by the restrictions have been tens of millions of migrant workers, who move from small towns and villages to work in factories and at construction sites in far-off cities.
They have almost all lost their jobs, forcing hundreds of thousands of stranded laborers to start a journey by foot to reach their homes hundreds of miles away when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the mandatory stay-at-home orders on a four-hour short notice on Mar.24.
The government on Friday began operating special trains to ferry home millions of people, mostly migrant laborers, stranded by the lockdown measures.
A government statement said it was allowing “the movement of migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons, stranded at different places across the country, by special trains”.