A night curfew has been announced in Uttar Pradesh - from 11 pm to 5 am, starting tomorrow (Saturday) - amid growing concern over the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
In addition, UP also said only 200 people could attend marriages and social functions, at which all necessary Covid-safety protocols must be followed. Government sources said Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also asked all shopkeepers and traders to follow the "no mask, no goods" policy.
Officials have also been asked to ensure that all those arriving in UP from abroad, and other states, are tested for Covid, with particular attention to be paid to railway and bus stations.
Poll-bound UP becomes the second state, after Madhya Pradesh, to impose night-time restrictions.
Yesterday Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan said a night curfew of 11 pm to 5 am would be enforced effective immediately. The state hasn't yet recorded an Omicron Covid case.
The Uttar Pradesh night curfew order also comes a day after the Allahabad High Court requested the Election Commission to consider postponing Assembly elections due in two months.
With memories of thousands of people - not wearing face masks or practicing social distancing - at campaign rallies in Bengal and other states ahead of elections there earlier this year, the High Court also requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ban poll-related gatherings in the state.
Thirty-one new COVID-19 cases were reported across UP on Thursday - much lower than the tens of thousands of cases detected daily in April-May. The state has reported two Omicron cases so far.
Across the country fewer than 7,500 new COVID-19 cases were detected in the previous 24 hours.
Maharashtra has 88, followed by Delhi (67), Telangana (38), Tamil Nadu (34), Karnataka (31) and Gujarat (30). Kerala, Rajasthan, Haryana, Odisha, J&K, Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chandigarh, Ladakh and Uttarakhand have also reported Omicron cases
However, although the daily numbers are low, experts are worried about the steadily increasing 'R' factor, or reproduction rate, of the virus, which warns of a potential explosion of infections.
On Tuesday the centre, in a letter to all states and UTs, warned governments that the Omicron variant was three times more infectious than the Delta strain that led to the deadly second wave.
The centre called on states and UTs to re-activate Covid 'war rooms' to better plan and coordinate testing, tracking and containment strategies in anticipation of a new wave of COVID-19 cases.
The letter - signed by the Union Health Secretary - also listed a series of prevention and containment measures that included extensive testing, night curfew and regulation of gatherings.
The Health Secretary also warned states and UTs to guard against the Delta variant too, noting that this strain remains present in different parts of the country.
Experts believe that the Delta variant, while not as infectious as Omicron, produces more severe symptoms and greater need for hospitalisation and medical oxygen. The Omicron variant, first reported from South Africa last month, is regarded as more virulent but, potentially, less severe.
With input from PTI