The Centre is leaning towards extending the ongoing three-week lockdown announced to contain the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) at least till the end of this month, a senior government official said on Tuesday, while also pointing out that several states have suggested backing such a move.
The Union health ministry, however, clarified that there was no decision on extending the nationwide lockdown yet, asking people not to speculate.
The sweeping restrictions, including ban on public transport as well as commercial rail and air travel, came into force on March 25 and were set to end on April 14. Only people involved in the delivery of essential services, such as health care, are allowed to function in this period.
States such as Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra and Karnataka have suggested they were not in favour of lifting all restrictions after April 14 and conveyed to the Centre that the pandemic will be easier to contain if the lockdown were to continue. Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh too have favoured an extension of the lockdown.
Earlier in the day, a group of ministers led by defence minister Rajnath Singh met at his residence to discuss various issues that would have to be factored in once the lockdown was lifted. “The ministers were very clear that even if the lockdown is lifted, travel restrictions will remain,” said the official quoted above.
It was for the fourth time that the group met. Singh and home minister Amit Shah usually head these meetings. On Tuesday, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman too attended the discussions, along with 14 other ministers.
The talks focused on what form of travel should be allowed. “Trains and buses will not be back to normal,” said the official. “Air traffic will also be disrupted. The public should expect a slow, staggered return to a new normal.”
A key concern flagged in the meeting was that the farming sector was struggling. The ministers discussed the challenge amid apprehensions that the harvest season would face a major setback.
“The ministers were briefed that the special concessions for agriculture were not filtering down. The labourers were too scared to go back to work,” said a second official.
In the same way, the lack of resources was also impacting the supply of medicines. While there was no shortage of drugs, said this official, there was a shortage of people to transport them.
The official said Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be conveyed the key deliberations at Tuesday’s meeting.