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No consensus on lifting India's two-month lockdown

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to address the nation on May 12 with the lockdown expected to end five days later

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Updated: May 12, 2020 08:48 AM GMT
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No consensus on lifting India's two-month lockdown

Nurses working in a coronavirus isolation ward light an oil lamp in front of a picture of Florence Nightingale at Ernakulam Medical College in Kochi, Kerala, on May 12 as the world marks International Nurses Day. (Photo: Arun Chandrabose/AFP)

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A consensus remains elusive on lifting the 54-day nationwide Covid-19 lockdown in India even after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a six-hour marathon virtual meeting with state leaders on May 11.

At the meeting Modi sought inputs from state chief ministers on the way forward in facing the pandemic that has already claimed 2,200 lives and infected more than 70,000 across the country.

The Prime Minister's Office tweeted that Modi plans to address the nation on May 12 evening  

India was expected to lift the lockdown on May 17. It has been extended three times since Modi announced a nationwide lockdown from midnight on March 24, giving only four hours' notice.

"A complete exit from the lockdown may not be a feasible idea now," a senior government official told UCA News.

The infection rate has increased in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat states, particularly in cities.

The "biggest weapon" to fight Covid-19 so far is social distancing, Modi emphasized at the meeting, the official said.

The chief ministers, including those from communist-ruled Kerala and opposition Congress party-led Punjab, demanded partial resumption of public transport and economic activities in less affected areas of their states.

The Congress chief minister of Chhattisgarh state, Bhupesh Bhagel, asked the federal government to grant “greater autonomy” to states to work out details of lockdown norms.

The federal government has decided to resume passenger train services to help hundreds of thousand Indians stranded in urban centers to travel to their homes.

However, K. Chandrashekar Rao, chief minister of Telangana, opposed resuming passenger train services, echoing similar pleas from the states of Tamil Nadu and Bihar.

“The states face different challenges and therefore should be given the freedom to make reasonable changes to the guidelines relating to the lockdown,” said Pinarayi Vijayan, Kerala's chief minister

India has been witnessing 2,000 or more cases in each of the past few days. New infections have been reported from areas where migrant workers returned to their homes from urban centers.

Thousands of stranded Indians were also airlifted from abroad, some from badly affected countries, under a massive evacuation plan.

Indian Railways have been running "labor special" trains for ferrying migrant workers since May 1.

Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal's chief minister, said the federal government wanted strict lockdown enforcement on one hand but was resuming train services on the other.

“When the government of India has opened almost everything including land borders, starting trains and opening airports, then what is the point in continuing with a further lockdown?” Mamata asked Modi at the meeting.

Maharashtra state has 23,000 Covid-19 cases or one third of all cases in India. Its chief minister Uddhav Thackeray wanted Modi to “show specific, concrete direction on the lockdown. We in the state governments will implement those.” 

Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of badly affected Delhi state, wanted economic activities allowed in all parts of Delhi except in restricted zones in the national capital.

The prime minister requested chief ministers to provide specific feedback by May 15.

An official statement said Modi wants the “states to make a blueprint on how to deal with various nuances during and after the gradual easing of the lockdown.”

"We must understand that the world has fundamentally changed post-Covid-19,” it said, adding the changes “would entail significant changes in how we function."

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