The Centre on Saturday issued guidelines for the fourth phase of an exercise to lift restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), announcing that metro rail services can resume in a graded manner from September 7, and political, social, religious and sporting activities with crowds limited to 100 people will be allowed along with limited academic activities.
While issuing “Unlock 4” guidelines, which will come into effect from Tuesday, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) said the latest plan was aimed at reopening more economic activities outside containment zones and that it was issued after receiving feedback from states and Union Territories, and extensive consultations with the central ministries and departments.
The latest guidelines said that from September 1, states and UTs won’t be able to impose any local lockdowns at the state/district/sub-division/city level or on weekends outside the containment zones without prior consultation with the Centre.
“States/UTs will have to take permission from the Centre now before imposing any lockdowns of their own as these localised restrictions were disrupting economic activities without any logic,” a home ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
The guidelines said that metro rail services will be allowed to operate from September 7 in a graded manner and the standard operating procedure (SOP) for this will be issued by the ministry of housing and urban affairs.
Shortly after the announcement, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted: “I am glad that metro has been permitted to start its operations from 7 Sep in a phased manner”. The Delhi CM has previously demanded the reopening of metro services in the national capital. The transport service, which ferries hundreds of thousands of passengers every day, has been shut since March 22.
Referring to the resumption of the metro services, ministry of housing and urban affairs spokesperson Rajiv Jain said: “Metro Rail operations have been allowed w.e.f. 7th September, 2020. The SOPs already circulated will be discussed on 1st Sep 2020 through video conferencing by MOHUA with all metro companies and finalised.”
“All MDs have been asked to look into SOP prepared by MOHUA earlier in view of the current realities. All suggestions will be considered in the VC meeting and accordingly SOP will be finalised,” he added.
The new norms on resumption of metro rail are likely to include contact-less ticketing through metro cards, increase in the average stoppage time at each station, markings for queues across all stations to control crowds and maintaining social distancing and an overhaul in the air conditioning system inside the trains to ensure supply of fresh air, Hindustan Times reported on August 24.
The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which provides security to Metros, have chalked out protocols to ensure smooth and contactless travel in the time of the pandemic. CISF has already conducted drills on how passengers will queue up at entry points and platforms, an official in the paramilitary force previously told HT.
The fresh development came at a time when Covid-19 cases are on the rise in Delhi. On Saturday, Delhi reported 1,954 new Covid-19 cases and 15 deaths in the last 24 hours.
The government imposed strict curbs on activities and travel across the country on March 25. After 68 days of a hard lockdown, the government began implementing a graded plan to reopen businesses and bring economic activities, hit hard by the pandemic and the restrictions that followed, back on track in June. It was then that the “Unlock 1” phase guidelines came into place. Shops, malls, hotels and restaurants, offices and religious places have been allowed to open in a phased manner over the past few months. Restrictions on interstate and intrastate travel too have been lifted. Train services and flight operations, including limited flights to and from abroad, have resumed.
In the latest reopening exercise, the government has also allowed gatherings with a ceiling of 100 people for social, sports, entertainment, cultural, religious, political and academic functions from September 21, but with strict conditions that everyone present will have to mandatorily wear face masks, follow social distancing norms and go through thermal scanning.
For marriages and funeral ceremonies, the current cap of 50 and 20 people respectively will continue till September 20 but after that, the limit will be raised to 100 people for both, the guidelines said.
Cinema halls, swimming pools, entertainment parks, theatres and similar places will continue to remain closed till September 30. However, open air theatres will be permitted to open from September 21. The “Unlock 4” guidelines did not mention that bars will remain prohibited. HT previously reported that bars could be allowed to operate but restricted to running takeaway services and over-the-counter sale of alcohol.
Schools, colleges and educational institutions will also remain closed with some relaxations for the students of classes 9-12 and higher education institutions. The guidelines said that from September 21, states and UTs may permit up to 50% of teaching and non-teaching staff to be called to the schools at a time for online teaching/tele-counselling and related work.
Students of classes 9-12 may be permitted to visit their schools on voluntary basis for taking guidance from their teachers but only outside containment zones. For doing so, students will have to give written consent of their parents/guardians. The SOPs for the same will be issued by the ministry of health and family welfare. The MHA recommended that online learning should be encouraged as far as possible.
In higher education institutions, only research scholars and postgraduate students of technical and professional programmes requiring laboratory and experimental works will be allowed to visit the institute depending on the situation.