Centre’s thinking: More flexibility to states on easing coronavirus lockdown curbs

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Published: April 13, 2020 3:45:53 AM

There is a sense in the government that giving states more room may not actually make any major difference on the ground as no state, at this point, can afford to opt for a “thoughtless” relaxation and then bear the burden of a spike in cases.

There is a sense in the government that giving states more room may not actually make any major difference on the ground.

Even as several states have already announced extension of restrictions for two more weeks, the Centre is learnt to be looking at a lockdown model which allows the states to decide if there is room for relaxation in some areas. However, with 354 districts — almost half the total districts — reporting novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, the task of identifying the “very safe” areas will be difficult.

Also, the number of cases is still rising. In the highest single-day spike so far, 918 cases and 31 deaths were reported on Sunday. The total has now gone up to 8,447 cases, of which 273 died and 764 recovered. At Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s video conference with chief ministers on Saturday, several states had favoured a graded approach, pushing for resumption of some economic activities in regions with no COVID-19 cases. Some like Bhupesh Baghel (Chhattisgarh), Pinarayi Vijayan (Kerala) and YSR Jagan Mohan Reddy (Andhra Pradesh) sought the freedom and authority to decide and allow economic activities, be it farming or industry.

“After the three-week lockdown is over (on April 14), it is clear that some things will have to be done. Production will have to open enough to maintain supply of essential goods. There are also thoughts on allowing relaxations in the ‘very safe’ areas. But if that is done, the onus of identifying those areas will be with the states, because they are the ones doing the containment on the ground and they know which are those areas. Also, the numbers and spread are changing every day; more than a top-down effort is required (so) that the states are given more room,” said a top government source.

There is a sense in the government that giving states more room may not actually make any major difference on the ground as no state, at this point, can afford to opt for a “thoughtless” relaxation and then bear the burden of a spike in cases.

Another option being considered is relaxing restrictions for harvesting work and movement of goods, as demanded by many states. The Home Ministry has already issued directions to allow goods movement, regardless of whether they are covered in the essential list or not.

“Any substantive change in terms of allowing people to move around does not seem to be a good idea at this time. It will have to wait till the end of the month,” said another source. The focus is now on ramping up testing capacity.

Joint Secretary, Health Ministry, Lav Agarwal said 14 medical institutes have been identified to serve as mentors of medical colleges in their allotted areas and facilitate the establishment of COVID-19 testing facilities. “Till 2.30 pm today, 1,86,906 samples were tested, of which 4.3% have been positive; in the last five days an average of over 15,747 samples have been tested,” Dr Manoj Muhurekar, epidemiologist at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said.

Tracing the trajectory of the outbreak in India, Agarwal said that at every point, more beds were available than required. According to the Health Ministry, as on April 12, while the requirement of beds for 8,356 cases is estimated to be 1,671 (20% of confirmed cases with moderate and severe/ critical clinical symptoms), there are 1,05,980 beds available in 601 dedicated COVID-19 hospitals across the country. The number of isolation beds is being further augmented, the ministry said in a statement.

The current availability includes 242 beds at AIIMS-Delhi (including 50 ICU beds, 30-40 in high dependency unit and 70 ventilators) and 400 isolation beds and 100 ICU beds at Safdarjang Hospital, Delhi.

Dedicated hospitals for COVID-19 patients have been increasingly set up across the country. Besides government hospitals, these include private hospitals, military hospitals, Indian Railways hospitals and PSU hospitals. The Ordnance Factory Board has manufactured specialised tents to augment medical infrastructure in remote areas.

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