New Delhi: In a clear indication that ongoing lockdown may not end completely but curbs will be further eased, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said he was of the firm view that the measures needed in the first three phases of lockdown were not needed "in the fourth", and asked the states to come up with a roadmap by May 15 on how to deal with various aspects of the gradual easing of the lockdown .
In a video conference, which lasted for nearly six hours, Modi held extensive discussions on various aspects of the situation arising out of the pandemic and the nationwide lockdown, and said country will have to devise a balanced strategy to revive the economy and deal with COVID-19 with a sharp focus on ensuring that rural areas remain free from the pandemic.
The 54-day nationwide lockdown since March 25 to contain the spread of coronavirus is scheduled to end on May 17. "We have a twofold challenge - to reduce the transmission rate of the disease, and to increase public activity gradually, while adhering to all the guidelines, and we will have to work towards achieving both these objective," the prime minister told the chief ministers at the virtual interaction, fifth such meet since the outbreak of the pandemic in India.
According to an official release, Modi asserted that social distancing was the biggest weapon to fight coronavirus till "we do not find a vaccine or a solution", and said, "we must understand that the world has fundamentally changed post COVID-19. Now the world will be pre-Corona, post-Corona just like the case of the world wars. And this would entail significant changes in how we function...We must all plan for the new reality."
The new way of life would be on the principle of "Jan Se lekar Jag Tak", from an individual to the whole of humanity, he added. Referring to the resumption of train services from Tuesday, the prime minister said, this is needed to rev up the economic activity, but said that all the routes will not be resumed and only a limited number of trains would ply.
"I am of the firm view that the measures needed in the first phase of lockdown were not needed during the 2nd phase and similarly the measures needed in the 3rd Phase are not needed in the fourth," Modi told the chief ministers. Thanking the chief ministers for their proactive role in the country's fight against the COVID-19 and for their valuable suggestions emanating out of their grassroot level experience, Modi asked them to share with him by 15th May, a broad strategy on how each one of them would want to deal with the lockdown regime in their respective states.
"I want states to make a blue print on how to deal with various nuances during and after the gradual easing of the lockdown", he said, and pitched for an all-encompassing approach to deal with various challenges that will arise before the country, including proliferation of many non-COVID19 diseases with the onset of monsoon.
According to official sources, Modi told the chief ministers that the biggest challenge for the country will be to ensure that the infection does not spread to rural India following relaxation in lockdown norms, including on movement of migrant workers. As per sources, Modi also noted that slowly but surely, economic activities have started in several parts of the country, and said in the coming days, the process will gather steam.
The interaction comes in the midst of growing demands by states, industries, workers and several political leaders to withdraw the lockdown from non-COVID areas as it adversely impacted the economy and livelihoods of a large section of people. According to a Delhi government official, during the interaction, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said barring containment zones, economic activities should be allowed to resume in the national capital.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh pitched for the extension of the coronavirus lockdown, but demanded a carefully crafted exit strategy providing fiscal support to states. In view of the increasing number of coronavirus cases, continuation of the lockdown was needed, Singh said, adding the decision on designating red, orange/yellow and green zones should be left to the states, which are more cognizant of the ground realities.
The exit strategy should consider and focus on fiscal and economic empowerment of the states, which are responsible for real action directly impinging upon the livelihood and social health of the common man, the Punjab chief minister said. In the conference, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Palaniswami came out against the resumption of flight and passenger train services till May 31, citing increasing cases of coronavirus.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray urged Modi to show "specific and concrete direction" on the lockdown, a state government official said. During the interaction, Modi also said the entire world is of the view that India has been able to successfully protect itself from the pandemic, according to official sources.
Reacting to the Centre's decision to resume a limited number of passenger services from Tuesday after an almost a 50-day hiatus, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said on one hand, it wants strict enforcement of the lockdown, on the other, it is resuming train services. According to officials, Modi said it was essential to make best efforts to ensure that people stay where they were during the lockdown, however, in times like these people wish to go home and therefore, a change in decision had to be made.
Going forward, the prime minister said, the road ahead should focus on reducing the spread of the infection and ensuring that all precautions are taken by people including social distancing norms by following the mantra of "do gaz doori (six feet apart)'.
He said the Centre now has a reasonably clear indication about the geographical spread of the pandemic including the worst affected areas which is helpful in containing the pandemic. The interaction was attended by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Home Minister Amit Shah, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Health Minister Harsh Vardhan among others.
The prime minister interacted with the chief ministers last on April 27. Days after the meeting, the central government had extended the lockdown by two more weeks till May 17 to arrest the spread of the virus, but gave several relaxations in economic activities and movement of people.
According to the Union health ministry on Monday, India registered a record jump of 4,213 COVID-19 cases in a single day, taking the total number of COVID-19 cases to 67,152 with a death toll of 2,206,