India prepared for the third phase of the national lockdown from Monday with "considerable relaxations" in several districts but curbs will continue in containment areas even as Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said people will have to be ready to live with coronavirus and that time has come to re-open the city.
As coronavirus cases jumped by 2,487 in the highest ever 24-hour spike and the fatalities rose by a record 83, officials cautioned against any violation of the lockdown curbs so that the gains achieved so far in the battle against COVID-19 are not "squandered away. The lockdown was imposed on March 25 and is slated to last till May 17 after two extensions putting the total period of restrictions at 54 days.
Retailers and traders expect to re-open more shops under the new relaxed guidelines although they are still seeking clarity from local authorities.
As he announced the implementation of all lockdown relaxations prescribed by the Centre for the 'Red Zone' in the national capital, Kejriwal said coronavirus is going nowhere and it is impossible that the positive cases in the country will be zero.
"Corona(virus) has come. It is impossible that there will be no cases of coronavirus because it has not happened across the country. We will have to be ready to live with coronavirus. We will have to get used to it," he told an online media briefing.
"Time has come to re-open Delhi, the AAP leader noted, as he said the Delhi government will suggest to the Centre that only containment areas in the city be declared as red zones and not the entire district.
At present, all 11 districts in the city have been declared as red zones.
According to the Union Health Ministry on Sunday, the death toll stood at 1,306 while the total cases climbed to 40,263 on Sunday. The recovery rate was nearly 25 per cent.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan urged people to observe the extended two-week period of lockdown in letter and spirit and treat it as an effective intervention to cut down the chain of transmission of COVID-19.
We are on the path of success and we will win this war against COVID-19, he asserted.
According to the health ministry, as on Friday, there were 130 'Red' zones, maximum of 19 in UP, followed by 14 in Maharashtra. The number of 'Orange' Zones was 284 and 'Green' was 319.
Vardhan said the rate of growth of new COVID-19 cases has been steadying for a while and the recovery rate improving, adding that India is on the path of success and will win the war against the pandemic.
According to the data received on Sunday, for the past three days, the doubling rate of the virus is 12.0, for seven days it is 11.7 and for 14 days it is 10.4, the minister was quoted as saying in a statement.
We have crossed over 10 lakh tests till date and are performing over 74,000 tests in a day presently.
He said India is on a "better footing" as compared to other nations, adding the country is capable to pull off any eventuality with more than 2.5 lakh beds in dedicated COVID-19 hospitals and health centres.
Echoing Vardhan's views, Niti Aayog member V K Paul said the continuous rise in the number of people testing positive for coronavirus is expected to stabilise anytime soon,
He also said the rationale behind the government's decision to extend the lockdown by two more weeks after May 3 is to consolidate the gains of the first and second phase of restrictions.
In an interview to PTI, Paul said a sudden spurt in the number of coronavirus cases is still amenable to a containment strategy.
"The rationale (behind extending the lockdown till May 17) is that the gains of lockdown need to be consolidated in the country...Real goal of lockdown was to suppress the chain of transmission of the virus. So, we will lose that, if we abruptly end it," said Paul, who is heading an Empowered Group on medical equipment.
Retailers Association of India (RAI) said it will have to be seen how the third phase of lockdown works out at the ground as there is confusion, and many states are yet to come up with guidelines to follow the Centre's decision.
Similarly, Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) also claimed they will be in a "dilemma" as there is confusion over "what constitutes a neighbourhood shop and a standalone shop", while organised retailers such as Future Group and V-Mart Retail said they are also seeking permissions from local authorities.
"Some parts of the businesses will reopen. What we see is that there is the possibility of opening of some standalone stores...We will open wherever we can and we will talk to the local authorities to open. We will have to see how it works out.
Expressing similar concerns, CAIT Secretary General Praveen Khandelwal said, "The traders will be in a dilemma".
National General Secretary of the Federation of All India Vyapar Mandal, V K Bansal said, "The biggest problem with the guidelines is that it all depends on the states. The states frame their own policies and do not want to take any responsibility. The Centre wants relaxation but states are restrictive".
Fighter jets and transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out fly-pasts over major cities and towns while military choppers showered petals on leading hospitals across the country as part of a mega exercise to express gratitude to lakhs of doctors, paramedics and other front-line workers battling the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the mega exercise, calling It a great gesture.
"Saluting those who are at the forefront, bravely fighting COVID-19. Great gesture by our armed forces," Modi tweeted.
Concerned over scores of frontline security personnel catching the COVID-19 disease, the Centre has suggested to states to prepare an effective second line of defence by deploying home guards, civil defence and NCC cadets among others wherever feasible to contain the spread of the deadly virus.
In a communication to all states and UTs, the Ministry of Home Affairs(MHA) said the police chiefs may consider the option of 'work from home' for personnel not deployed on the frontline, and wherever possible. In another communication.
The MHA also made it clear that the relaxations given for the inter-state movement of people during the lockdown was available only to distressed migrant workers.
Railways also pressed more Shramik Special' trains for the third day to ferry stranded migrants back to their native places in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha among other states.