covid-19: Lockdown beyond April 14? Centre mulls extension after states, experts raise red flags

New Delhi: The Centre is looking at extending the lockdown beyond April 14 after many state governments and health experts suggested such a course of action on the ground that the Covid-19 threat is still looming large.

“A lot of state governments, as well as experts, are requesting the Centre to extend the lockdown. The central government is thinking in this direction,” top government sources said on Tuesday.

The move comes days after the PM had called upon chief ministers to come up with a strategy towards a “staggered exit” from the lockdown. This idea was to draw up a district-wise phased plan but many states apparently felt that implementation would be challenging, especially when Covid-19 cases have still not ebbed.

The current speculation is that an extension of about two weeks until April-end is under consideration. “It’s an evolving situation. The government wishes to just wait and hold on (to the lockdown). Most big states like UP, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana and Rajasthan want this as cases have been on the rise over the last week. Nearly 300 districts have confirmed at least one positive case until now. The PM, in consultation with the CMs, will take a final decision in the next few days,” a senior government official told ET on the condition of anonymity.



Multiple Factors

Multiple factors seem to have come into play with various states worried about a sudden spike in the number of cases if the lockdown is lifted and social distancing norms are not properly followed.

Also, major urban economic centres crucial for a revival, such as Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Pune and Hyderabad, are the ones worst affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. These hotspots would still remain under a lockdown even if partial relief is given to other areas, added an official.

Besides this, the Tablighi Jamaat episode has come as major setback to the Centre’s plans of sticking to the 21-day lockdown as nearly one-third of cases in the country are currently linked to that gathering.

ET has gathered that many states are still to complete contact tracing of those associated with the Tablighi Jamaat cluster, while those who attended the gathering also need to complete the two-week quarantine.

The Centre, officials said, also feels that the supply chain of essential goods has largely normalised now, so an extended lockdown could be feasible.

Chief ministers like Ashok Gehlot and Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Tuesday said saving lives was most important and that should be the main criterion on which a decision to lift the lockdown should be taken.

Separately, however, the government has begun discussions with the industry on a business continuity plan that could include gradual lifting of curbs.

The industry in its submissions to the government has said that select but key sectors, including retail, essential manufacturing, large construction and infrastructure projects, should be allowed to resume operations with strict adherence to social distancing norms and other precautionary measures.

Industry body Ficci has pitched for setting up a post-Covid revival fund with an outlay of Rs 2 lakh crore to help sectors with heavy import dependence, which have been hit the hardest.

The plan includes a three-pronged approach — ensuring safe migration of workers back to factories through special transportation, effective coordination between the Centre and state government machinery to avoid lapses, and selective opening after risk assessment — ward and sub-ward wise — in districts.

The industry has also suggested developing protocols covering manufacturing, exports and construction after a thorough evaluation of intertwined supply chains.

“….with shutdown of a large part of the economy and businesses coming to a standstill, the losses are rising and jobs are increasingly at risk. As the containment efforts are on war footing, India has been able to contain the spread so far and we must prepare to reboot the economy,” said Assocham secretary general Deepak Sood in a statement.

“For the support of MSMEs, the government should set up a pandemic Covid-19 Distress Fund of Rs 25,000 crore,” said DK Aggarwal, president, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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