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When India extended a countrywide lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 until May 3, it also decided to allow a few more essential services in areas not affected by the pandemic to operate from April 20. The government said the aim was to reduce the economic impact of the measures, especially the hardships faced by people in low-income groups.
The Home Ministry said the relaxations would be implemented by states and union territories in accordance with lockdown guidelines. For example, they must ensure that offices, workplaces, factories and establishments enforce social distancing and other safety rules.
From April 20 banks and insurance companies will be allowed to open their branches in areas not affected by Covid-19. The central bank and IT vendors for banking operations will also function.
Print and electronic media, data and call centres for government activities and IT services with limited staff can now operate. In addition, E-commerce and courier companies will be allowed to make deliveries.
As for the movement of people, private vehicles will be allowed only for emergency services and for buying essential commodities. To maintain physical distancing, only two people, including the driver, will be allowed in cars.As for motorcycles, pillion riders will not be allowed.
Farming activities, including harvesting and sowing, will be allowed. Businesses related to farming, including wholesale markets and shops selling and repairing farm equipment, will be allowed to open. Fishing-related activities will also be allowed.
Industries in rural areas, export-oriented units, food processing units, oil refineries, coal and mineral production, and road construction activities will be allowed.
However, passenger trains, planes, buses and taxis will not resume service. Educational institutions, hotels, restaurants, cinemas, malls, gyms, bars, swimming pools and amusement parks will remain closed till the end of the lockdown on May 3. Curbs on religious and political gatherings will continue.
Offices, factories and other business establishments must carry out thermal screening of staff. They will have to ensure that every employee wears a face mask, employees are no closer than two meters from each other, and that there are no gatherings of more than nine people. No more than four people are allowed in an elevator at a time.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Software and Services Companies, the IT industry body, has advised its members to reopen their offices in phases. It wants companies to deploy only 10-15% of staff in offices from April 20-30, 30% by May 15 and 50% by June. The Indian IT industry employs over 4.3 million people.
The association has welcomed the government’s move to permit IT manufacturing, but some of these units may not function as they are located in Covid-19 hotspots such as Chennai and Noida near New Delhi.