india economy: Time to open economy but with caution: Centre tells states

In view of a decline in COVID-19 cases, the Centre on Wednesday asked states to follow a risk assessment-based approach on the opening of economic and social activities. The Union Health Ministry, however, suggested necessary curbs in areas reporting over 10 per cent positivity rate or 40 per cent occupancy in either oxygen-supported or ICU beds.

The government stressed for continued focus on the five-fold strategy of Test-Track-Treat-Vaccination and adherence to Covid Appropriate Behaviour, while stating that a sustained and significant decline in the number of cases has been observed since the last couple of months.

In a letter to states and union territories, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan asked them to ensure sufficient availability of dedicated Covid health infrastructure as per the ongoing case trajectory and also directed them to fully operationalise non-Covid health services in all health facilities.

He also underlined the need to follow the home isolation protocol for asymptomatic and mild cases, and asked to continue specific monitoring of high-risk cases.

Bhushan said gatherings and congregations — social, sports, entertainment, academic, cultural, religious, festival-related and others — may be resumed, provided that Covid Appropriate Behaviour is duly adhered to.

Offline classes can be resumed in academic institutions without any restrictions. However, the academic institutions may also leverage a hybrid model of education, he said.

Bhushan further said marriages and last rites may be allowed and all shopping complexes, cinema halls, restaurants and bars, sports complexes, gyms, spas, swimming pools, and religious places may be allowed to operate at full capacity.

Public transport (railways, metros, buses, cabs) can operate without any capacity restrictions. Also, there shall be no restrictions on inter-state and intra-state movement, including transportation of essential goods.

Further, all offices — government and private — may function without any capacity restrictions, and all industrial and scientific establishments may be allowed, he stated in the letter.

“While allowing all such activities, it is imperative that the adherence to Covid Appropriate Behaviour, including use of mask and physical distancing, shall be followed in all public places,” Bhushan said, adding such decisions by the states and union territories must be linked to the local epidemiological situation based on a sustained critical level of testing and monitoring.

He also asked states to ensure 100 per cent vaccination of all eligible age-groups with a particular focus on covering the left-out beneficiaries.

Administration of precaution doses and vaccination amongst young adolescents (12 years and above) should also be taken up for all eligible people. Services should be resumed while promoting 100 per cent vaccination of the eligible staff members, he said.

“Taking into account the sustained and steep decline in the COVID-19 cases across the country, the states and union territories have been undertaking various measures to reopen economic and social activities. There is a need to follow a risk assessment-based approach on the opening of economic and social activities without losing the gains made so far in the fight against the pandemic,” Bhushan said .

At the district level, there should be a constant review of emerging data of new cases based on a sustained and critical level of testing to facilitate evidence-based decision for restrictions and relaxation, he said.

“States need to watch the trajectory of cases in particular geographies to ensure that the areas reporting positivity rate above 10 per cent and bed occupancy more than 40 per cent on either oxygen supported or ICU beds should undertake required enforcement, containment, and restriction measures,” his letter read.

As the case trajectory may vary from state to state and there would be variation in the spread of infection within states, too, there is a need to take decisions with respect to containment and restriction measures primarily at the local/sub national level by the state and the district administration concerned, he said.

Bhushan also stressed on adequate testing and monitoring of Influenza-like illness and severe acute respiratory infections in all health facilities on a regular basis for early warning signals.

He also underlined the need for a continued focus on genomic sequencing of prescribed samples of international passengers, collection of samples from sentinel sites (identified health facilities) and local clusters of cases, duly following the guidelines laid by the ministry to capture early warning signals on variants.

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