India labourer lockdown
The plight of India's migrant labourers and daily wagers during the prolonged lockdown to battle coronavirus had been one of the major underlying sub-text in the last two months. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: When the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the first of the nationwide lockdowns on March 25, the country had a reported 400-plus cases of COVID-19. Six weeks down the line, as the ‘world’s biggest lockdown’ braces for a 3.0 edition for another two weeks, the total number of cases have soared nearly 100 times more to around 40,000 - making it a nearly foregone conclusion that India needed to buy for some more time for the pandemic to hit it’s peak in the country.

The dilemma before India when it comes to lockdown, compared to the likes of Italy, Spain, France of the effected states of the US, had been a monumental one. Closing down the economy of a country, which is so majorly reliant on the unorganised sector, for a period of close to two months must have been a real Hobson’s choice in the first place – but India knew it’s limitations well and decided to bite the bullet.

The first phase of the lockdown provided somewhat encouraging results as in the first week of April, India’s Health Ministry announced that they could bring down the doubling of infection rate in the country from about three days to 6.2 says. The ministry figures revealed that 19 states and Union territories (Kerala, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Ladakh, Himachal, Chandigarh, Puducherry, Bihar, Odisha, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, UP, Karnataka, J&K, Punjab, Assam, Tripura) had shown a lower rate of increase of cases to some extent.


When the second phase of the lockdown started, the number of active cases had inched up to nearly 9000 with more than 330 deaths.

The Lockdown 2.0 – from April 15 to May 3 – was a little more diluted one as the authorities opened up the window for a number of sectors to set the wheels of the economy back on a chugging mode. There were relaxations for the agricultural sector (with the harvesting season due to start in April), small and medium scale indutsries, cargos as well as the movement of thousands of migrant labourers back to their own states.

The relaxation, coupled with possibly a sense of early relief that India had already proved the Doubting Thomases wrong - resulted in a surge in the growth rate of new cases in the second half of April. While the economy of the country – which had been on a freefall with a predicted growth rate between 1.5% and 2.8% became such a major point of concern that the groundrules of fighting the pandemic – built on a chain of social distancing, tests, contact tracing, isolation and treatment got somewhat relegated to the background.

The choice of life or livelihood is a really acute one for India, and the new guidelines for Lockdown 3.0 reflect this dilemma. A number of the Chief Ministers of different states, who had been leading the charge from the front – have spoken out against too many ‘grey areas’ and the feasibility of implementing them in such a populous country with a notorious lack of self discipline.

No prizes for guessing, it’s hence going to be the toughest two weeks for India as it begins the process of liberating itself from the protracted lockdown.

A primer on India’s lockdown 3.0 (May 4-17)

What changes in lockdown 3.0?

The Indian districts have been identified into three zones (red, orange and green). Curbs will vary from one zone to the other — maximum in red and minimum in green.

RED ZONES: These places are also known as hot spots and are areas with maximum number of Covid-19 cases. The government takes into account total number of active cases and case doubling rate, among others, before declaring an area a red zone. Number of red zones in the country: 130

ORANGE ZONES: Places that are neither in red nor in green category. They may have fewer cases. No: 284

GREEN ZONES: Places with no cases or where no case has been reported in 21 days. No: 319

CONTAINMENT ZONES: Places in red or orange zones with a cluster of cases. These areas have stricter perimeter control and the movement of only essential services personnel is allowed. Aarogya Setu app is mandatory for people living here.

(States are allowed to add districts in red and orange zones, but not permitted to lower the classification of any district).

New curbs on movement

Movement of people for all non-essential activities is prohibited between 7pm and 7am in all three zones. It’s not applicable to containment zones, which are earmarked pockets inside red and orange zones, because of stricter guidelines

Are there some activities banned across all three zones?

Domestic and international air travel of passengers; passenger movement by trains, except those cleared by the government; inter-state buses for public transport; Metro rails; schools, colleges and educational institutes; and hospitality services other than those for essential employees and those stranded

All cinema halls, shopping malls, gymnasiums, sports complexes, swimming pools will be closed. All social, political, cultural and religious gatherings are not allowed

What’s allowed in green zones?

All activities except those banned nationwide. Even buses can operate with up to 50% seating capacity; and bus depots with 50% capacity

What about orange zones?

The curbs become stricter here. Inter- and intra-district buses are not allowed, in addition to activities restricted countrywide. Taxis and cab aggregators (with one driver and two passengers); and inter-district movement of individuals and vehicles (for permitted activities) are allowed

What’s banned in red zones?

Cycle rickshaws and auto-rickshaws, taxis and cab aggregators, inter- and intra-district buses, and barber shops and salons are not permitted

What’s allowed in red zones?

* The government order lists certain activities allowed with restrictions. The movement of vehicles is allowed in certain cases, but with just two passengers besides the driver. Pillion-riding is not allowed for two-wheelers.

* Industrial activities in urban areas are limited to Special Economic Zones, Export Oriented Units, and manufacturing units of essential goods and pharmaceuticals, among others. Manufacturing of IT hardware and the jute industry are also allowed with staggered shifts and social distancing.

* Construction activities in urban areas are restricted to sites where workers are not needed to be brought from outside, and to renewable energy projects.

* All malls and market complexes within city limits will be closed, but those selling essential items are exempt. All standalone shops and shops in residential complexes are allowed, but social distancing is a must.

* Commercial and private establishments, such as print and electronic media, and IT and IT-enabled services are allowed; e-commerce activities are permitted for essential goods.

* Private offices can operate with up to 33% strength. Government offices will function with officers of the level of deputy secretary and above; the remaining staff can operate with 33% strength. This rule will not apply to defence and security service, and fire and emergency services, among others.

* In rural areas, all industrial and construction activities, including MGNREGA work, are permitted. All shops outside city limits, except those in malls are allowed. All agriculture and animal husbandry works are allowed

What are the activities allowed across the country?

Essential services such as health care and policing will continue to function. Friday’s order also says all states and Union territories will allow inter-state movement of goods. No fresh permit is needed for activities already permitted. Outpatient departments (OPDs) and medical clinics are permitted, except for in containment zones.