Rajat Sharma

How our lives will change after May 3

AKB2610The Centre on Friday extended the nationwide lockdown to another two weeks from May 4, by classifying the COVID affected zones into Red, Orange and Green.

In 319 Green zone districts, which have had no Corona cases in the last 21 days, state governments have been allowed to bring near normalcy. Plying of taxes, autos, rickshaws and buses (at 50 per cent capacity) will be allowed.

All activities will be permitted in Green Zone districts except limited number of activities that are prohibited across the country, like air, rail, Metro, inter-state movement by road, running of educational institutions and coaching centres, cinema halls, malls, gymnasiums, sports complexes as well as all social, religious, political and cultural gatherings. Air, rail, and road movement between states will be allowed for select purposes.

Liquor shops and pan and tobacco shops will be allowed to open in Green Zone subject to enforcement of social distancing norms. However, consumption of paan, gutkha, tobacco and liquor in public places will remain banned in public. Wearing face cover and downloading of Aarogya Setu app have been made mandatory both for public and private sector staff.

In 284 Orange Zone districts, where no new cases have been detected in the last 14 days, taxis and cab aggregators will be permitted with one driver and two passengers only. Inter-district movement of individuals and vehicles will be allowed for permitted activities only in Orange Zone. E-commerce firms can start delivering both essential and non-essential items in Orange and Green Zones, but not in Red Zones.

All goods traffic will be permitted to ply, regardless of zones, and no state or UT government shall stop movement of cargo for cross land-border trade with neighboring countries.

The toughest restrictions will be enforced in 130 Red Zone districts, where the number of Corona cases is still on the rise. Domestic helps and driver can travel to households for work between 7 am and 7 pm, though not to and from containment areas (hot spots). Barber shops, spas and salons will remain closed in Red Zone, though they can operate in Orange and Green Zones.

Industrial establishments under SEZs and EOUs, manufacturing of essential goods and IT hardware can resume work in urban areas of Red Zone, under standard protocols. All industrial activities can resume in rural areas.

Children of age under 10 years and senior citizens will continue to be barred from moving out of their homes. In Red Zone districts, contact tracing will be intensified, door-to-door tests will be carried out, and all people living in this zone must compulsorily carry Aarogya Setu app on their phones. No auto, taxis, cabs, buses will be allowed to ply in Red Zone.

Clearly, the lives of common people will change a lot after May 4. On one hand, we have to protect ourselves and our community from virus spread, and on the other hand, the government needs to allow economic activity so that the wheels of development and commerce can move. Let me make it clear: the time for celebrations is yet to come.

The entire world is today watching how India is tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. In a nation of 1.35 billion people, there were chances of community transmission, but our Corona warriors have successfully stemmed it from happening, till now. Powerful and economically developed countries in the West failed to stop community transmission, and the death toll in many of those countries are currently ranging in five digits, and rising.

Several doomsday prophets had predicted that nearly 20 crore Indians will catch the virus and the death toll will be in the range of lakhs. They had direly predicted that it would become difficult to count the number of corpses. I have read reports in the western media about how India, with its vast slums, illiterate people, ill-equipped infrastructure and abysmal social hygiene, will find it difficult to tackle the pandemic.

The people of India have come out in flying colors through this challenge. Not only have they enforced social distancing in remote villages, they are also managing quarantine centres in their school buildings.

We need two more weeks of lockdown for the decisive battle against the pandemic, that is hopefully in its final phase in the Red Zone (hot spots). If we strictly follow guidelines and protocols, we can stop the pandemic effectively. The entire world will then applaud India for this endeavor. I am repeating again: the danger is far from over. Let us fight this battle with determination and victory will be ours.

There was good news on Friday, when the Railways decided to run six ‘Sharmik Special’ trains to ferry migrant workers to their native states. The first one started from Lingampally (Hyderabad) to Hatia (Jharkhand), and the second one started from Aluva (Kerala) to Bhubaneswar (Odisha). Special trains for migrant workers have been planned from Nashik to Bhopal, Jaipur to Patna, Kota to Hatia and Nashik to Lucknow (rescheduled).

The Railways have clarified that these special trains are not meant for ordinary passengers. The state governments will identify migrants and give details to the Railways, who will issue tickets in bulk. Only 54 passengers will travel in a sleeper coach having 72 berths, and Railway Protection Force staff shall ensure there is social distancing among the passengers. The state governments will bring migrants to railway stations in buses, they will be screened, and shall be given masks and sanitizers.

At Lingampally (Hyderabad) station, the joy on the faces of migrant workers and their family members sitting in the special train was evident. These workers had been waiting to go home for the last 40 days because they had no work nor did they have any source of income.

The Centre was aware of the problems of migrant workers but there were risks of the virus spreading if it had allowed them to travel. Now that the lockdown has been extended by two more weeks, there were chances of these workers getting restive. These workers, on reaching their home states, will have to stay in two weeks’ quarantine before reaching their homes.

For Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, transporting these migrant workers to their home states will not be an easy job.

There are presently 60 to 70 lakh workers from Uttar Pradesh working in other states. There are nearly 50 lakh migrant workers from Madhya Pradesh working in different states. There are roughly 42 to 45 lakh other migrant workers working in other states. The total number of migrants may reach four to five crores, and transporting them in special trains, after thorough screening and ensuring social distancing, is a gigantic task.

In the recent past, we in India have seen our government achieving tough targets and facing enormous challenges. This time, too, I am confident the Railways will come out with flying colors.

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