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Delhi opens doors, shuts out neighbours

June 02, 2020 06:07 AM

COURTESY HT JUNE 2 Delhi opens doors, shuts out neighbours
COVID-19 FEARS: CM halts entry of non-residents for a week over hospital surge fears, asks for public inputs

Sweta Goswami & Abhishek Dey

New Delhi : Delhi has eased restrictions on shops and markets and allowed salons to open, but at the same time put stringent curbs on interstate travel for a week while deciding against opening malls and places of worship, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Monday, aiming to strike a cautious balance and protect the city’s health care resources on the day coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases in the Capital crossed the 20,000-mark.

Two days after the central government allowed the opening of religious places, malls and hotels and dine-in restaurants from June 8, the Delhi government’s guidelines, for now, did not approve any of these activities that have been prohibited in the city-state since March 25, the day a nationwide lockdown was first imposed to stop the spread of Covid-19.

According to a senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, an assessment of the ground situation will be conducted on June 7 before taking a call on possible relaxations in line with the central guidelines.

The lockdown in containment zones will continue till June 30.

Addressing a digital news briefing, the chief minister sought suggestions from the public on whether the borders should continue to remain sealed beyond this week. He said people from across the country come to Delhi for medical treatment not only because it is the best among all states but also because it is free of cost. He expressed concern that there could be an influx of patients in Delhi’s hospitals, filling up its 9,500 beds in “just two-three days”.

“What should we do? Should Delhi borders be opened? Some people believe that the borders should be opened, but medical treatment in the hospitals should only be given to the residents of Delhi… We have a number of suggestions, but we need your guidance on what should be done. Please send your suggestions on this by Friday, 5pm on WhatsApp (8800007722), or mail (, or by dialling 1031,” Kejriwal said. The government order said that those part of essential services, government officers with valid ID and those having travel passes issued by any district administration or the concerned authority will be allowed to travel to and from Delhi.

Two big takeaways of Monday’s order were: the reopening of barbershops and salons (though spas will remain closed), and the lifting of restrictions on the number of people travelling in four-wheelers, auto-rickshaws and e-rickshaws. While pillion-riding in two-wheelers is allowed, buses can carry a maximum of 20 passengers. Another highlight was the scrapping of odd-even system for marketplaces. In the fourth phase of the lockdown (between May 18 and May 31), half the shops in a market were allowed on one day and the other half the next day and so on. Now, all shops in markets will be permitted to function seven days a week. The fourth significant decision that stood out was imposition of strict curbs on Delhi’s borders with Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Government employees, however, will be allowed passage on producing their identity cards.

The move came a day after Haryana decided lifting of similar restrictions on its side, reassuring those travelling to and from Gurugram of a smooth travel experience. The administrations in Uttar Pradesh cities Noida and Ghaziabad, however, have said curbs on their borders will continue, notwithstanding the May 30 central order that eased restrictions on interstate travel.

On Monday, Delhi’s case count stood at 20,834 and casualties at 523. It was the third worst-hit Indian state in terms of the total number of infections.

Jugal Kishore, head of the community medicine department at the Safdarjung Hospital, said: “The lockdown cannot be indefinite. Phased relaxations had to be implemented. And risks, in terms of a spike in numbers, are expected. Now, people need to help the government enforce the relaxation orders and the prohibitions they entail… The government should step up monitoring of daily activities at health facilities, ensuring there is never a resource crunch.”

On Saturday, the central government released its guidelines for what it called “Unlock 1”, detailing the first of a three-phase plan to resume businesses and activities across the country after 68 days of restrictions in various forms in four stages.

In line with the directive, the Delhi government said the night curfew for non-essential travel will be between 9 pm and 5am, and not 7pm-7am that was previously in force. But among Delhi’s list of prohibited activities were shopping malls, places of worship, and hotel and restaurants, which have been allowed by the Centre in the first phase of its unlockdown plan. To be sure, restaurants that are home-delivering food and takeaway joints are allowed in the city. People above the age of 65, children under the age of 10 and those with health conditions have been asked to stay at home. Activities in the second phase of the Centre’s plan — educational institutes such as schools and colleges as well as coaching centres — will be closed in Delhi, like in the rest of the country. The Centre has said it will take a call on this in July.

Businesses and activities the Centre has listed for the third phase feature international air travel, metro rail services, cinema halls, gyms, swimming pools, bars, entertainment parks, and auditoriums. So are large gatherings, including social, political, religious, and sporting events. These are banned across the country, including in Delhi, and will be taken up in the last phase of the unlock plan.

The Delhi excise department also lifted the odd-even restriction on opening of liquor shops, allowing them to operate daily. The government also extended the timing for the opening of liquor shops by one-and-a-half hours. “Liquor shops will now remain open from 9am to 8pm in Delhi,” an official said. They were previously allowed to open till 6.30pm.

The Delhi government’s order, however, did not specifically state if shared rides in cabs will continue to be prohibited as was the case in the previous phase of the lockdown. A spokesperson of cab aggregator Ola said it will continue to restrict its number of passengers to two and won’t start shared rides in the Capital till the time there is clarity on the issue from the government.

“There is still a week to go for June 8. So a call will be taken around June 7 after reviewing the situation of Covid-19 cases. While malls can be considered for the opening, it is unlikely that hotels will be allowed to restart in Delhi beyond June 8. This is because cases of infections are increasing and we need services of hotels for turning them into extended Covid-19 hospitals and Covid Care Centres. As of now, minimum of 20 hotels are either offering quarantine services or are being requisitioned for turning them into hospitals. If we allow its opening, then requisitioning them on an emergency basis will be difficult,” said a senior government official on condition of anonymity. Jayati Ghosh, a professor of economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: “The relaxations are expected to cause a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases but it is necessary in order to ease the sufferings of the poor, who have been deprived of livelihood by the lockdown. Delhi had imposed the strictest version of the lockdown in the first few phases even though it did not receive any major or direct relief from the Centre. So, the sufferings increased exponentially. It is unfortunate that the economic crisis in India has reached a point in which the lockdown has to be relaxed when the number of Covid-19 cases is sharply increasing.

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