Unlock 4.0 And The COVID-19 Deadlock!

The government of India announced Unlock 4.0 yesterday with the guidelines for more and some major relaxations as Unlock 3.0 ends on 31st August 2020. Lockdown, except for the containment zones, is formally lifted in all areas of the country. However, cinema halls, swimming pools, entertainment parks, indoor theatres and similar high-risk public places will continue to remain closed. Only open-air theatres shall be allowed to open from September 21. In a significant move, the government has withdrawn the power of the states to impose local lockdown except for in containment zones without prior consultations with the centre, and under this, the states can no longer restrict inter-state movement or seal borders. This move thus is set to end the era of haphazard lockdowns of various duration indulged in by the states of late. In another major relaxation, the metro rail services will be allowed to operate from the 7th of September 2020 in a graded and calibrated manner. The metro services, shut down since March, would operate with the tokens replaced by QR code-based tickets on Aarogya Setu apps, compulsory masks, physical distancing inside the coaches, thermal screening and limited entry into the stations, and more SOPs are going to be announced in coming days. However, management of the crowds inside the trains or inside the stations or outside the stations would remain the biggest challenge.

Congregations relating to social/political/cultural/religious/sports/entertainment will be allowed from September 21 with the maximum limit of attendance capped at 100. Such gatherings must follow the norms of masks, hand hygiene and social distancing strictly. The limit of 50 people in social/wedding gatherings set by Unlock 3.0 would continue till 20th September.

Schools/colleges and other educational institutions are to remain closed till 30 September with these special provisions: from 21st September 50% of the teachers can be called to attend schools/colleges for facilitating online classes from respective premises; students of class 9-12 can come on voluntary basis to the institutions for special guidance, further subject to consent letters of the respective parents; in higher education, institutions can open only for PG students and research scholars; and skill or entrepreneurship training will be allowed only in centre or state approved training institutes. All these provisions shall be effective only outside the containment zones or subject to the prevailing COVID-19 situation in the concerned area and consultation with the union home ministry in specific cases.

International flights, except as allowed by the government, will continue as per earlier directives, and regular train services in the country would continue to remain restricted. All other directives issued by the government for COVID-19 management, like social norms and wearing of masks, would continue to be in effect with strict enforcement. The government has appealed to the public for strict compliance.

The relaxations under Unlock 4.0 have been expected and bound to come at some stage; but the present COVID-19 situation in India continues to be grim and it is uncertain how the Corona behavior here would be affected by more and more relaxations. To make matters more worrying, the union government is hell-bent on holding the JEE/NEET examinations next month citing more than 90% students supporting the move, as the examinations have been pending since the month of May. However, it is risky to apply majority rule here as this is not election or any passing of bills; it involves the careers of the students, and even if only one student is disadvantaged due to external factors compromising his/her career, the exams should not be held as a matter of natural justice. With the matter still in the courts, many states have unlocked further to facilitate smooth conduction of the exams while some other states continue to oppose the move.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hold the country in a virtual deadlock, with the positivity rate and the all-important ‘R’ (reproductive rate meaning to how many persons one infected person can spread the virus should ideally fall to below 1) factor still higher than most other countries. Since the last five days spikes in news cases have been in excess of 75,000 per day, with a record high of 78,761 new cases in the last twenty-four hours. India has crossed 3.5 million cases and total deaths are steadily rising at over 63000. Experts in the country are not sure if the situation were a case of unpredictable fluctuations or in fact, a second wave. We have been maintaining in these pages that the known Coronavirus behavior trajectory observed in the globe has been thwarted in India thanks to the compromises made in the implementation of the national lockdowns, and from this point of view it seems that India is unable so far to come out of the first wave itself with no peak or plateau reached, and with regions like Maharashtra, Delhi and so on still registering rise in new cases despite showing a declining trend earlier. Therefore, a second wave or a resurgence does not seem to reflect the present situation. Whatever be the case, India, just around 3 lakh cases behind the second-placed Brazil, continues to be a grim reality as far as the spread of the pandemic is concerned. 


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