2020, the most challenging year for the world in living memory, is drawing to a close. India too witnessed a massive healthcare crisis and a financial downturn. But the good news is that the pandemic is slowing down in India. Most experts and doctors feel that we have reached our peak in September, and now COVID cases will slowly decline. Besides, it is only a matter of months before we have a COVID vaccine!
So, why has the Union Health Ministry issued a fresh set of guidelines that are coming into effect and will stay in force until 31st December? For starters, not all states have been able to flatten the curve, and COVID is showing no signs of slowing down. Secondly, even those states that have been able to more or less contain the spread of COVID, need to continue to be cautious, else there could be another break-out.
So what are the new guidelines all about?
1. Local curfews
The Centre Government has asked states to impose night curfews whenever and wherever needed. It is up to the state authorities to analyse the condition and see if restrictive measures are necessary. States can also declare containment zones. But they will NOT impose lockdown outside of the containment zones.
2. Reduced office hours
States will be able to reduce work hours, implement WFH or similar measures in those cities where COVID positivity rate is more than 10. By reducing the number of employees coming to the office all at once, the spread of COVID can be contained.
3. Action against COVID offenders
States will have full power to take action against any individual who refuses to follow the COVID protocol, such as not wearing masks or maintaining social distancing.
4. Uninterrupted movement of goods and people
The Centre has assured the states that there will be no prohibition of the movement of both people and goods from one state to another. Cross border trade will continue with neighbouring countries.
5. Surveillance, containment, and caution
This mantra will continue to be the state’s focus in curbing the spread of COVID. Surveillance teams will be posted in containment zones. Their job is to ensure that COVID patients are isolated and receiving the treatment they need. Police will be patrolling the zones and along with municipal authorities will make sure that all containment measures are being implemented. People will not be allowed into or out of containment zones except for emergencies.
The Union Government has also released Standard Operating Procedures, also called SOPs for how to behave in crowded places. Crowded Indian market places continue to be high-risk transmission spots, and utter caution is called for to combat the spread of COVID.
6. Online shopping
The Centre has requested the states to stress the importance of online shopping of groceries, medicines, and other essentials. It has also asked State authorities to consider giving discounts or incentives for non-peak-hour shopping.
7. Market places in containment zones
In containment zones, markets and shops will remain closed. People who are currently living in a containment zone but have shops outside of the containment zone will not be allowed to open their stores. No such restriction is required for shops and stores operating in non-containment zones.
8. Market associations
Instead of government or municipal authorities directly intervening in the COVID SOPs of a market, the market should form its own subcommittee that will be responsible for the implementation of COVID protocol. The state government should make arrangements for mass thermal screening, handwashing stations, public washrooms, contact-less soap dispensers in all large markets in the state.
The wait for the end of COVID is near. But we cannot afford to be careless now. Let us cooperate fully with our governments and follow all the instructions to keep everyone safe.