With the country witnessing a spike in coronavirus infections and deaths in the past few days, the Prime Minister has suggested states to lift the ongoing lockdown in a staggered manner when it ends on April 15.
He has also indicated a shift from the Centre’s current policy of limited testing for Covid-19, which has killed about 50,000 people around the world. Interacting with Chief Ministers via videoconferencing on Thursday, Mr. Narendra Modi told them that 'testing, tracing, isolation, and quarantine' should remain the area of focus in the next few weeks to contain the virus.
Mr. Modi said the Centre and states needed to formulate a common 'staggered' exit strategy from the lockdown. He sought suggestions on ensuring 'staggered re-emergence of the population' after the end of the 21-day nationwide lockdown. He said Covid-19 had attacked 'our faith and belief and is threatening our way of life'.
The Maharashtra Chief Minister, Mr. Uddhav Thackeray, tweeted, 'The PM said the state government should not lift the lockdown immediately from April 15, but it should happen in phases. Precautions should be taken that there is no crowding.'
'The completion of lockdown will end on April 15. But it doesn’t mean free will to move out on the streets. We all must be responsible in slowing down. Lockdown and social distancing are the only way to fight Covid-19,' the Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr. Pema Khandu, tweeted, but deleted it minutes later.
Several Chief Ministers sought not only more funds from the Centre to help them combat Covid-19, but also more testing kits, ventilators, and other medical supplies.
Tamil Nadu 's Mr. M. K Palaniswami and Bihar's Mr. Nitish Kumar appealed for relaxing Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) norms by increasing the fiscal deficit limit of gross state domestic product (GSDP). Mr. Kumar said it should be increased from 3 to 4 per cent, and pointed that it was increased to 4 per cent in 2009-10 during the global financial crisis, and in 2010-11, from 3.38 per cent to 3.5 per cent. Mr. Palaniswami said this relaxation should be applicable for 2019-20 and 2020-21.
Rajasthan’s Mr. Ashok Gehlot demanded the Centre release Rs 1 trillion to all the states to tackle the epidemic and help states cope with financial constraints. Congress Chief Ministers suggested the borrowing limit of states be increased by 2 per cent, and a moratorium on the payment of dues to financial institutions under the Reserve Bank of India.
Punjab’s Capt. Amarinder Singh demanded the release of his state’s goods and services tax (GST) share of Rs 5,000 crore; Chhattisgarh’s Mr. Bhupesh Baghel requested the Centre to release his state’s share of Rs 2,000 crore; and Mr. Palaniswami asked for Rs 9,000 crore. West Bengal's Ms. Mamata Banerjee did not attend the meeting.
Mr. Modi asked the states to identify hotspots of the virus, encircle them, and ensure that coronavirus did not spread out. According to a government press release, he forewarned about speculation of a 'possible second wave' of spread of the virus in some countries.
Mr. Modi asked states to maintain the supply of essential medical products, and availability of raw materials for manufacture of medicines and medical equipment. He said it was necessary to ensure availability of separate, dedicated hospital facilities for Covid-19 patients.
To increase the availability of doctors, he asked states to tap into the resource pool of AYUSH doctors, organise online training, and utilise paramedical staff, National Cadet Corps, and National Social Service volunteers.
The Prime Minister asked states to set up crisis management groups at the district level and appoint district surveillance officers. He said data must be taken from accredited labs for testing -- 'this will ensure congruence in data of district, state and centre.' It was necessary to ensure staggered release of funds to the beneficiaries under the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana to avoid crowding at banks.
Mr. Modi said while the government had given some relaxation from the lockdown to farmers since it was harvest season, it was necessary to continuously monitor and maintain social distancing.
He asked states to think of other platforms for procuring grains apart from Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs), and explore the possibility of creating pooling platforms for rural areas.
The Union Health Secretary, Dr. Preeti Sudan, spoke about the rise in number of cases in India, particularly the spread of cases from the Nizamuddin headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat. Some of the CMs spoke of how their administrations were trying to trace and isolate the participants from their state in the event..
The Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Home Minister Amit Shah were also present at the interaction. Shah talked about the need to implement lockdown more strictly in some states.
In a letter to all chief secretaries, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla asked states and UTs to ensure smooth disbursement of Rs 27,500 crore to beneficiaries of the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana through banks from Friday.
The government also launched a mobile app, ‘Aarogya Setu’, to help people assess themselves the risk of catching coronavirus.