The nationwide COVID-19 lockdown is likely to be extended for a third time beyond May 17 but more restrictions may be eased in areas that are not severely affected, government sources told NDTV on Monday, following an online meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and state chief ministers.
Restrictions like a night curfew and curbs on public transport may continue in areas designated as Red Zones, sources said. PM Modi has asked states to send in suggestions for changes to the current rules by May 15.
"I am of the firm view that the measures needed in the first phase of lockdown were not needed during the second phase and similarly the measures needed in the third phase are not needed in the fourth," the Prime Minister said, according to a statement released after the meeting.
Government sources say a number of states have asked for the lockdown to be extended but limited to areas worst hit by the crisis. They have also requested for Red Zones to be changed from entire districts to just containment zones.
Battered by the fallout of the lockdown that is now in its sixth week, many states are in favour of resuming economic activity outside containment zones.
"We now have reasonably clear indication as to the geographical spread of the pandemic in India, including the worst affected areas. Moreover, over the past few weeks, officials have understood operating procedures in a time such as this, right up to the district level," PM Modi said.
"And therefore, we can now further focus our strategy in this battle against coronavirus, as should be the case. We have a twofold challenge - to reduce the transmission rate of the disease, and to increase public activity gradually, while adhering to all the guidelines, and we will have to work towards achieving both these objectives," he added.
After his last meeting with chief ministers in late April, the government had announced relaxations for businesses and transportation especially in districts that were designated Green or Orange Zones. The third phase of the lockdown with the relaxations kicked in on May 4 and is set to expire on May 17.
Coronavirus cases in India crossed 67,000 on Monday, with 2,206 deaths, and at the current rate, it may surpass China which is likely to be around the 84,000-mark by May 17.
India had imposed the world's biggest lockdown on March 25, asking people to go out only for food and medicines in an effort to slow the spread of the deadly disease.