India has extended its lockdown for another two weeks as it attempts to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The government’s disaster response authority said that new guidelines would be issued, “keeping in view the need to open up economic activities”.
The country went into lockdown on 24 March and schools, public transport and most businesses have been shut since.
India has recorded 2,896 deaths. It has more than 90,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 53,946 active infections.
It is the fourth time the federal government has extended the world’s largest lockdown, covering 1.3 billion people. India media dubbed the extension “lockdown 4.0”.
What has changed?
Most of the restrictions remain in place – flights, trains, educational institutions, metro services, restaurants, bars, cinemas and shopping complexes will remain closed.
Restaurants will now be allowed to operate takeaway services, while sports complexes and stadiums can host events without spectators, the home affairs ministry said.
And for the first time since the lockdown was announced, private cars and buses can now operate across cities and towns – as well as crossing state borders if they have permission.
Journeys in personal vehicles had been permitted before, but drivers had been discouraged from travelling long distances, often being stopped at police checkpoints and asked where they were headed to.
Essential services – hospitals, pharmacies and groceries – have been allowed operate throughout.
It will be up to individual state officials to decide whether they wish to allow the easing of restrictions or continue with the previous rules. None of the changes will apply in “containment zones” – areas with especially high number of cases where a perimeter has been imposed to ensure no-one enters or leaves except in case of an emergency.
Have there been other relaxations?
Before this, the government had already relaxed the rules to allow agriculture and related businesses to reopen and operate. And self-employed workers including plumbers, electricians and carpenters were allowed to start working again.
But the the relaxations were allowed only in orange or green zones, which do not have a high number of Covid-19 cases. Tight restrictions continue in red zones, which are seen as hotspots.
The entire country has been divided into these three colour-coded zones. Officials say the zones are being continuously monitored for a rise or fall in cases.
India’s lockdown was it put in place quickly and has come at a massive economic cost, with job losses already crossing 120 million. The surprise announcement – accompanied by the suspension of trains and buses across the country – also stranded millions of migrant labourers. Many began to walk home, desperate to return to their families after finding themselves out of work and money.
The journey has proved fatal for some. At least 24 migrant workers trying to return home were killed in a crash between two lorries in northern India.
Though some trains and buses were restarted for migrants in recent weeks, many say they cannot afford the fare and are unsure if they will find a place on services due to social distancing norms.
At least five states – Telangana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Mizoram – had extended the lockdown until 31 May before Sunday’s announcement by the federal government.
Maharashtra, home to the financial capital Mumbai, is the worst hit, with more than 30,706 active cases – more than half of the national tally. Tamil Nadu comes second, with 10,585 active cases. The state saw a surge in cases recently after a wholesale market emerged as a a big cluster.