Observing that the time was not yet ripe for a withdrawal of the lockdown, an expert committee constituted by the Kerala government on Tuesday suggested a three-phase relaxation of existing restrictions in the state.
The nationwide 21-day lockdown announced by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to contain the spread of the coronavirus ends on 14 April and the prime minister has sought suggestions from states to gradually ease out restrictions.
The 17-member taskforce, headed by former chief secretary KM Abraham and comprising eminent personalities, including renowned film director Adoor Gopalakrishnan, submitted its report to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday.
Vijayan told PTI that a decision on withdrawing restrictions could only be taken by the Centre and said that the report had been sent to the prime minister.
"The committee recommends a withdrawal strategy that should be gradual, phased and calibrated to ensure that the case load is always kept below the (surge) capacity of the healthcare," the report said, stating that "the time is not yet ripe for full withdrawal" of the lockdown on 14 April, 2020.
However, the panel also felt that a "prolonged and stringent lockdown would lead to economic hardship, famine and law and order problems, which could undermine both the lockdown and the health management objectives" and suggested a three-phase strategy for easing of restrictions at the district-level outside areas identified as COVID-19 hotspots with specific criteria spelled out for initiating each phase.
According to the report, the first phase can be initiated in districts in which no new case has been detected in the week before the date of review, where the number of persons under home surveillance has not increased by more than 10 percent and where no COVID-19 hotspots have been identified by the health department. If the conditions are not met a review can be carried out again after ten days.
In districts which fulfill these conditions, says the report, banks may function with a 50 percent attendance while private establishments can resume operations with ten persons or 25 percent of the staff strength.
Only one person per house at any given point in time will be allowed to step out for non-essential activities, says the report.
Notably at this stage, gatherings of more than five persons and all religions gathering will continue to be prohibited. Vehicular movement shall follow an odd-even pattern and no persons from outside the state will be allowed to enter.
The second phase of the lockdown can be initiated in such districts after a period of fifteen days if the following criteria are satisfied: there should have been no COVID-19 cases reported in the district in the fortnight, not more than a five percent increase in people under home surveillance and no hotspots should have been identified.
If these conditions are satisfied then the district authorities may allow autos, taxis as well as buses to operate locally with restricted seating capacity.
In this phase, work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) can resume, says the report, adding that MSMEs shall be allowed to resume operations provided they follow certain protocols.
In this stage, authorities can increase the number of persons allowed to attend marriages and funerals to 20 from 1o in the first phase and also increase the number of employees allowed at private establishments.
A district can qualify for the third phase of relaxations of restrictions if no new cases have been reported in a fortnight, if the number of people under home surveillance has gone down by 5 percent in the same period and if no hotspots have been identified by the health department.
In this stage, travel restrictions may be further lifted, including those on inter-district bus travel and on domsetic flights for doctors, patients, etc, with restrictions on seating capacity continuing.
In this stage, persons from outside the state will be allowed entry with the condition that they undergo a 14-day home quarantine.
This phase also allows schools, colleges to re-open for conducting exams and allows the opening of hostel and residential facilities. It allows IT companies to open partially. Shopping malls and stores can only be opened in the third phase, with care taken to ensure social distancing.
For a final revocation of the lockdown, the report again suggests a review to be carried out after 15 days of entering the third phase.
Additions to list of economic activities allowed during lockdown period
Further, the committee recommend certain relaxations to maintain the supply chain of essential services and commodities during the lockdown period.
In addition to the activities currently permitted by the Centre, it suggests that agricultural operations be permitted along with supply of food grains and milk, and suggests that provision stores be exempted from the lockdown.
It further suggests that local workshops, repair shops and artisan units like cobblers shops be allowed to operate and recommends that production units for essential commodities be allowed to function.
As per the report, cleaning services like those provided by domestic workers, take-away and home delivery services, helpers for elderly/disabled and parcel and transport services should also be allowed.
The report recommend that state and Central governments take a cautious approach to easing restrictions and prepare themselves for a cycle of lockdowns and lifting of restrictions. It also advises states to ramp up preparatory work in anticipation of a surge in cases, with a focus on stepping up production and procurement of test kits, ventilators, PPEs for healthcare personnel and masks.
Kerala, which has reported over 300 cases, has seven COVID-19 hotspot districts —Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Kannur and Kasaragod, and the report lists measures for identifying and managing such hotspots.
Cordoning off the entire panchayat or wards and enforcing complete restriction of travel outside were recommended in infection hotspot areas.
Deploying of additional police force in the hotspot boundary is necessary to ensure the strict enforcement of the lockdown and essential commodities and food from community kitchen are delivered through the Voluntary Task Force, the report added
Recognising that different Indian states are expected to pass through the peak of the infection at different timings, it recommends the setting up of a national-co-ordination mechanism so that states can support one another with experience, expertise, equipment and finances.
It recommends three general measures to be enforced till 30 June, including compulsory face masks for all persons leaving their homes, prohibiting the use of air-conditioners in all offices, public transport and cars and stipulates that permission to hold weddings should be obtained from local authorities.
Noting that the economic packages announced by the Centre and the RBI are grossly inadequate to alleviate the economic devastation, the committe suggests that the government formulates a special COVID-19 package to the tune of 10 percent of GDP. It also suggests that the Centre extends a substantial line of credit to states and introduce a special package for MSMEs.
Lastly, the committee observes that the "COVID-19 crisis is forcefully taking India into the 'online' world" at a very rapid pace.
"Innovations and practices which would have needed years to achieve is being introduced in matter of weeks in education, judiciary, local business, telemedicine among others. We must ensure that such modern technological leaps are not lost when the lockdown is withdrawn as there are huge economic and efficiency gains attached to it," it says in the report.
Till date, India has recorded over 4,700 confirmed cases of the infection while at least 124 persons have lost their lives to the disease.
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Apr 07, 2020 23:39:08 IST