Other States

Lockdown relaxation cancels out distancing norms in Assam

Hundreds of people throng markets to buy essential items

The Assam government’s experiment with temporary relaxation of the lockdown restrictions backfired on Friday, as hundreds of people thronged the markets to buy essential items.

The government lost no time in issuing a statement banning the operations of most shops after the people threw caution to the wind and made a mockery of physical distancing norms meant to stamp out the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, now in eastern Assam’s Jorhat, and Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma took note of the huge gatherings shown on news channels. “I never thought people would behave like this during the relaxation on humanitarian grounds. We had insisted on people following the physical-distancing guidelines while buying essential items. People violated them. I am really sad,” Mr. Sonowal said.

Chief Secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna soon issued the statement. “All markets will remain closed until further order, except grocery and pharmacies. Grocery shops will also provide vegetables, fruits, eggs, ginger, garlic and water. DCs [the Deputy Commissioners] will organise distribution of vegetables, etc., through mobile vans in all areas on alternate days. All meat and fish shops will remain closed till March 31. It will be reviewed on April 1. The DCs will fix appropriate time for opening of grocery stores as per local convenience,” it said.

The government directed people to follow the advisories on physical distancing until further orders and warned that violations would attract penal provisions under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code.

Pay cut option

Mr. Sarma said the government was weighing the option of deducting a percentage of the pay of its employees and reimbursing it later with interest. “These are ideas we are discussing in case such a situation arises,” he said.

The Health Minister, however, said the employees’ associations had volunteered to donate a day’s pay for expenses to fight COVID-19. “Minus the healthcare sector employees, who are more than compensating with their service, a day’s pay will give us ₹80 crore which, along with other donations, will help us build within two months four of the five prefabricated pandemic-specific hospitals planned,” he said.

Mr. Sarma said the government had signed an agreement with private hospitals for absorbing the patient load from government hospitals dedicated to COVID-19 cases. “All cases, except for cancer, emergency and maternity, will now be handled by the private hospitals until the threat from the pandemic is over,” he said.

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 6:28:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/lockdown-relaxation-cancels-out-distancing-norms-in-assam/article31187906.ece

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