The Union government on Tuesday indicated that it was actively considering an extension of the 21-day nationwide lockdown that began on March 25 and due to end on April 14 as many States have openly appealed for its continuation in the face of rise in COVID-19 cases .
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Tuesday said he would request the Centre to extend the lockdown .
On Monday, Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhara Rao made the same request to Prime Minister Narendra Modi
In an interview to The Hindu on Tuesday, Chattisgarh Health Minister T.S. Singh Deo said , “I feel that people have got used to the lockdown. We should take advantage of that and deal conservatively with the question of lifting the lockdown. Certainly, borders of States should remain closed although activities within districts are on to some extent. A conservative estimate and looking at the expected spikes in cases, we must go for another 14 days of lockdown at least.”
Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh is understood to have conveyed to the Prime Minister during a videoconference last week that the lockdown should not be lifted all of a sudden and that it should be done in three-four phases. “There should be a partial lifting of the lockdown in a graded and calibrated manner. Allow farmers to harvest their crops but keep schools and colleges closed. Allow scooters and two wheelers to ply first,” a senior Punjab government official said.
Government sources told The Hindu that “many State governments as well as experts have requested the Central government to extend the lockdown and the Centre is thinking in this direction”.
The number of COVID-19 affected districts increased from 62 on March 20 to 284 on April 6 across 30 States and Union Territories. There are 718 districts, spread over 28 States and eight UTs, in the country.
On Tuesday, the Border Security Force (BSF) sent a message to all its formations that leaves of all those on leave be extended up to April 21. The personnel who went on leave before the lockdown came into force were to join work in the coming few days. It also issued similar instructions to its training centres where programmes are already running and due to terminate in the coming days. “No movement before 21st April. Stay wherever you are,” the BSF said in a statement.
GoM reviews situation
A Group of Ministers (GoM), led by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met on Tuesday to review the situation. This was its fourth meeting since March 25. Inputs, suggestions and feedback from the discussions at the meetings are conveyed to the Prime Minister by Mr. Singh.
“The GoM felt that places such as religious centres, where people have a tendency to gather in large numbers, should be closely monitored and such gatherings prevented. Increased monitoring through drones was also suggested,” a government official said.
The GoM recommended steps to enhance testing facilities in laboratories and expressed satisfaction over the measures in place to provide shelter and food to migrant workers.
Mr. Singh tweeted that the GoM had an extensive discussion on the prevailing situation and shared its appreciation of the Cabinet decision to reduce the MPs salaries for a year and also the suspension of MPLAD funds for 2 years.
“The amount saved through these decisions would be utilised in strengthening India’s fight against Coronavirus. The ministers also shared their insights on how we can overcome the situation and help the people to stay motivated, determined &vigilant in the battle against COVID-19,” Mr. Singh tweeted.
Emerging from the meeting at Mr. Singh’s residence, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said no decision to end the lockdown was taken at the meeting.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to all the Chief Ministers and sought their response to a phased lifting of the lockdown. The States were told to consult epidemiologists to analyse the spread of COVID-19 in potential hotspots.