Home Minister Amit Shah on Friday discussed the next phase of lockdown with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where he shared the views of some chief ministers that lifting restrictions altogether at this stage will be fraught with risks.
Shah had spoken to the chief ministers of various states on Thursday and sought feedback on their Covid-19 containment strategy after the current lockdown ends on May 31.
Shah told Modi that most of the states favoured a further extension of lockdown but with substantial relaxations to bring businesses back on rails and ease commuting, as several offices have begun to function.
Modi, who will announce the next strategy during his monthly radio address ‘Mann Ki Baat’ on Sunday, will take into account the inputs of the states he received from Shah, as well as Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, who had on Thursday, held detailed interactions with the district magistrates and municipal commissioners of 13 cities with the highest virus load. They had advocated a ground zero strategy to arrest the spread of the virus through aggressive monitoring of technically defined containment zones.
States like West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Odisha have asked the Centre to put on hold regular passenger train services for at least one more month, expressing apprehension that it might trigger an exponential rise in Covid-19 cases.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in fact dubbed the Shramik Special trains “Corona Express” and slammed the Centre for sending thousands of migrants in each train.
Mamata is in favour of opening all religious places and said that the lockdown will continue in her state with "minimal effects". Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat has decided to keep markets in the state open from 7 am to 7 pm. Odisha is mulling opening hotels after the start of flight services from May 25.
Congress-ruled states are also wary of lifting restrictions in one go though party leader Rahul Gandhi had said that the government's purpose behind the national lockdown has failed. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel feels that state borders should not be opened. He urged Shah to consider the strong views expressed by many chief ministers on the resumption of train and flight services.
The BJP-ruled Karnataka had on Thursday requested the Civil Aviation Ministry to reduce air traffic from five states, citing inadequate quarantine facilities for a large number of returnees.
Pramod Sawant, BJP’s Goa Chief Minister — who was the first to break the decision on Lockdown 4.0 a fortnight ago — again said on Friday that as per the conversation he had with Shah, he feels the lockdown could be extended for 15 days till June 15. “But still, we feel that relaxations should be given to our hotel industry, restaurants and gyms,” Sawant said, adding that the state will make its plans as per the MHA guidelines. He urged the home minister to allow opening of eateries with 50% attendance in Goa, which is a tourist destination.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has already hinted at an extension of the lockdown. He said it was not proper to impose the lockdown suddenly, and now, lifting it abruptly could also be detrimental. The BJP-ruled Himachal Pradesh has on its own extended curbs in two districts, Hamirpur and Solan, till June 30 after a surge in cases.
Shah’s meeting with the prime minister is a precursor to the Centre issuing new guidelines for Lockdown 5.0, where smaller units of administration like districts and municipal corporations will have more decision-making power.