While a final decision is expected nearer the deadline, the current thinking appears inclined towards prolonging most restrictions — especially those aimed at enforcing social distancing.
The likelihood of lifting the lid on mass transit — trains, metros and flights — and on inter-state movement of people appears remote.
Official sources said that the Centre is taking on board inputs from states and public health experts who believe that while the infection rate shows signs of stabilising, there is a risk of resurgence if the gains made so far in containing the spread are not locked in.
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While there is a clear recognition in government of the huge economic costs of a lockdown, the over-riding concern at the moment is to first deal with the more immediate danger, according to people familiar with the situation.
There may be some scope for reopening a few more amenities and conveniences apart from chemist and grocery stores; also, there could be a differentiated approach towards large cities and the virus hotspots on the one hand and the less vulnerable parts of the country on the other.
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Significance is being read into Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu’s statement on Tuesday: “Between the considerations of the health of the people and stabilisation of our economy being debated, the former shall take precedence over the later. In my view, while the concerns of the economy can wait for another day, that of health can’t. I appeal to people to abide by whatever decision is ultimately taken by the leadership and cooperate in the ongoing national effort… even if it means continuing with some degree of hardship still beyond April 14.”
Inputs from states and other quarters were considered at a meeting of the empowered GoM headed by defence minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday. Options such as odd-even and limits on the number of people in passenger vehicles are said to be on the table. The list of exemptions that includes activities relating to harvest and supply of everyday needs could be expanded. Some district administrations have allowed repairmen and caregivers to attend to their duties.
The focus of the containment approach to Covid-19 hotspots and high-risk areas makes it difficult to even consider inter-district movement on any significant scale, leave alone inter-state movement apart from categories like cargo that have been allowed.
“There is no question of opening state borders,” a top government official said. “Though a formal decision is yet to be taken, feedback so far suggests that relaxing restrictions would be hugely risky,” he added. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a video message to BJP workers on Monday, had stressed that the battle against the pandemic would be long drawn, hinting at the possibility of the lockdown being extended.
Several chief ministers, including MP’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Telangana’s K Chandrasekhar Rao have suggested that the lockdown continue beyond April 14. Any decision taken would be taken in consultations with states, senior government officials said.
Sources in government said the PM is making a concerted bid to develop political consensus over the strategy to combat the challenge. He has already held telephonic conversations with prominent politicians including former Presidents, former PMs and party presidents. Besides, he has had interactions via video with CMs twice since the lockdown was announced. Modi will interact with floor leaders in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on Wednesday as part of yet another exercise towards political consensus.