By Sarwar Kashani
New Delhi, Apr 15 (efe-epa).- The Indian government said Wednesday it would exempt agricultural activities and e-commerce from the nationwide lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
According to the fresh lockdown guidelines, the exemption would be granted after a review next week, as Asia’s third largest economy grinds to a halt under the impact of the pandemic.
The exceptions will include all health services, agriculture and related activities, financial services, public utilities, goods and cargo services, and supply of essential goods
The latest lockdown guidelines came a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the stay-home order until May 3, and hours before the initial 21-day shutdown imposed on Mar.14 was set to end.
The 19-day extension is seen as a step further in the country’s efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus that, according to Johns Hopkins University tracker, has claimed nearly 400 lives and infected over 11,500 people so far.
The prime minister said the government would monitor every town, district, and state until Apr.20, before allowing areas that are less likely to turn into hotspots to restart certain essential activities.
The exempted areas include banks, ATMs, IT vendors and cash management agencies, as the move seeks to mitigate the hardship faced by the people during the shutdown.
The government has also allowed industries operating in rural areas to run from Apr.30, but under strict social distancing rules.
It had already exempted public utilities such as operations of the oil and gas sector, postal services, and power generation from the restrictions.
Activities that would continue to remain prohibited until May 3 include all domestic and international air travel of passengers except those for security purposes.
The ban on social, political, sports, entertainment, academic cultural, religious functions and other gatherings will continue to be “strictly prohibited”, according to the guidelines.
“In case of funerals, a congregation of more than 20 persons will not be permitted,” it said.
India’s coronavirus figures indicate the country, which has some of the most-densely crowded cities in the world, has escaped unscathed with a relatively minor outbreak compared to Western nations, such as the United States, Italy and Spain.
However, health experts have expressed concerns that the numbers could be misleading and may not represent the ground reality in the absence of widespread testing in India.
Modi claimed that India was not as severely affected as other countries because of the preventive measures taken by his government much before the problem could aggravate.
However, the country’s $2.9 trillion-economy that was already in crisis, experiencing its highest unemployment rate in decades, has been devastated due to the lockdown.
The government has been found wanting in rolling out adequate measures to address the growing financial and humanitarian crisis caused by the lockdown, although it did declare a relief package earlier.
The halting of economic activities has dealt a crushing blow to the country’s poor, mostly engaged in India’s construction and unorganized sector.
Millions of daily wage laborers have lost their livelihood. Hundreds of thousands of them had even tried to walk back hundreds of miles to their home villages when the lockdown began.