NEW DELHI : India is set to announce measures to further open up its economy based on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s interaction with chief ministers on Monday as the 54-day national lockdown nears its end on 17 May.
Balancing efforts to contain covid-19 with the need to help revive the economy, the government will further ease curbs on economic activities in the coming days even as efforts to check the spread of the pandemic will continue, a senior home ministry official said, citing Modi.
“Slowly but surely, economic activities have begun to pick up. In the coming days, this process will further gather steam. We must realise that the fight against covid-19 has to be more focused now,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, cited Modi as saying.
An official statement on the meeting was awaited at the time of going to press.
States demanded more flexibility in classifying areas based on the severity of the pandemic. Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh said in a post on Twitter that he proposed to Modi that the Centre should consider empowering states fiscally and economically. “States should have flexibility in micro-planning and the decision on designating red, orange or yellow and green zones should be left to us,” said Singh.
Reopening the economy and focusing the restrictions on tightly defined coronavirus hotspots have become crucial as the economic cost of the lockdown has become enormous with loss of livelihoods, fears of corporate bankruptcies and an overall contraction in the economy this fiscal.
Small manufacturers and service industries such as tourism and aviation are among the worst hit. The government is working on a fiscal stimulus package demanded by industry leaders and economists. The industry has now scaled up the demand for a stimulus package to ₹15 trillion from the ₹10 trillion they sought earlier.
Some states such as Karnataka proposed that domestic and international travel remain shut at least till the end of May. A government official said a decision on allowing domestic air travel has not been taken. Airlines, in the meantime, are preparing to follow stringent safety measures once the travel ban is lifted.
The country’s largest airline IndiGo said in a statement it will temporarily stop on-board-meal services and on-board and duty-free sales in addition to frequent deep cleaning of aircraft when flights resume.
“Maintaining social distancing among the passengers from airport to the aircraft, we will fill our airport buses at 50% capacity, allow boarding for limited number of customers at a time, keep the seat occupancy in compliance with the guidelines laid down by the relevant authorities,” IndiGo said. It also said the company was well-prepared to take all measures to keep crew and passengers safe while operating flights.
Care Ratings Ltd said in an analysis on Monday that small businesses need immediate assistance without which many companies may go out of business. “Most small-scale businesses may not be in a position to survive long without timely support from the government,” it said.
Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa proposed that the district-wise colour code be done away with and only containment zones be identified and strictly cordoned off, Yediyurappa’s office said. Karnataka also proposed that commercial activities, including public transport, be allowed outside of these containment zones and in stand-alone establishments, but the restrictions on malls, cinema halls, dining facilities and establishments with central air conditioning can be continued.
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan favoured giving major relaxations after 17 May. Kerala is keen to open public transport buses, metro trains and three-wheelers outside red zones, in compliance with social distance and other health protocols, according to the local officials who requested not to be named. Kerala also demanded more autonomy for states to make decisions about the lockdown relaxations, arguing that risks vary in each state.
Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR) urged Modi not to restart passenger train services as tracking potential carriers of covid-19 will not be possible. Rao said placing everyone who travels by train in quarantine will be difficult.
Modi told states that the strategy for handling the crisis in the coming days will be based on Monday’s deliberations. He also urged states to ensure that rural India remains free from the pandemic. Although migrants have been allowed to return home, the Centre wants states to aggressively monitor migrants for symptoms of coronavirus infections at the time of boarding and of disembarkation to prevent the spread.
“The road ahead should be focused on reducing the spread and ensuring that all precautions are taken by people including social distancing norms by observing ‘Do Gaj Doori’ Follow-up is of paramount importance-and we must do so to the hilt,” the home ministry official mentioned above quoted Modi as saying.