Millions of students took college entrance exams, and pubs and hotel businesses resumed in several states as India entered the fourth phase of Unlock on Tuesday despite a raging Covid-19 pandemic.
The majority of non-essential businesses in India have been under the coronavirus induced lockdown ever since March 25. Even as the nation started the graded unlock process on June 1, activities related to education and recreation had remained strictly prohibited until September 1.
Unlock 4 has allowed students to step out of their homes to give exams and others to enjoy limited activities like bars, restaurants, hotels and unrestricted travel across the states. While students across India ventured out of their homes to sit for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) on Tuesday, people in Karnataka, Goa and Bengal entered bars after five months.
Hotels and lodges resumed businesses at full capacity in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu allowed people to enjoy clubs.
Here’s what opened where as part of Unlock 4:
Pubs and Bars: Karnataka, Goa and Bengal governments allowed pubs and bars to reopen from Tuesday. In its order, the Karnataka government said that bars can reopen as long as they follow all Covid-related guidelines and fill only up to 50 per cent of their capacity. Similar restrictions were imposed by the Bengal government while allowing the bars and pubs to reopen.
“Restaurants shall not allow any guest to use the dance floor, if any, withing the service area in order to avoid crowding,” the order by the Bengal government states. In Bengal, restaurants with proper licenses have been allowed to serve alcohol to customers.
Pubs, bars and restaurants also reopened in India’s tourism capital Goa. The state excise department has said that no liquor will be sold to the customer who is without a mask or appropriate face cover. The owner of the liquor-serving establishment will have to ensure that customers maintain a six feet distance and use sanitiser.
Tamil Nadu government has allowed hotels and clubs to reopen, but bars will remain closed.
Hotels: The hospitality industry in Maharashtra breathed a sigh of relief as the state government allowed them to reopen at full capacity. Maharashtra is the first state to do so. In other states, where hotels and lodges have been allowed, there is a restriction on occupancy vis-a-vis their capacity.
Maharashtra has not allowed bars to reopen in Unlock 4.
Travel: The Centre’s guidelines for Unlock 4 prohibit states from hindering the inter-state movement of people and goods. Accordingly, most of the state government guidelines released so far have lifted any restrictions on such movements. The only exception is Himachal Pradesh. The guidelines issued by the Himachal Pradesh government said that anyone entering the state will still require a recent Covid-negative report and an e-pass. Interstate bus transport will also remain suspended in Himachal during Unlock 4.
Other states have however lifted such restrictions. The Maharashtra government on Monday announced that there shall be no restriction on inter-district movement of persons and goods, including those for cross-land border trade under treaties with neighbouring countries from September 2.
“No separate permission/approval/e-permit will be required for the vehicles and persons travelling therein for such movements,” the Uddhav Thackeray government said in its Mission Begin Again order that encapsulated Unlock 4 norms.
The government also allowed passenger movement by private bus/minibus and other operators. The states Transport Commissioner will issue the standard operating procedure (SOP) for the same, the order said.
Local and inter-district transport also resumed in Tamil Nadu on Tuesday. However, Transport Minister M R Vijayabhaskar said only a very few passengers used the services on the opening day across the state and assured more buses after looking into the people’s response in the days to come. Out of the fleet strength of about 22,000 buses in state-run transport corporations, 6,090 were operated on Tuesday within the confines of each district and services are open up to 9 pm, he told reporters. The Tamil Nadu government has allowed a maximum of 32 and 24 passengers in mofussil and city buses respectively.
More than 2 million masked students filed into exam centres across India on Tuesday to take tests for admission to medical and engineering schools, with physical distancing norms, hand sanitisation stations and temperature checks in place.
The central government had declined to defer the tests – already postponed twice this year – despite growing pressure from some students and opposition parties who feared rising infections as well as difficulty travelling to exam centres due to virus-linked curbs on transport.
“If (the exam) is delayed, then our whole year will be wasted … we don’t have any option,” a student appearing for the tests in the eastern city of Kolkata told the India Today news channel. “So whatever maximum precautions we can take, which we are all following, I think it’s fine,” she said.
India’s Covid tally
India’s tally of coronavirus infections surged to nearly 3.7 million on Tuesday. India, the world’s third most affected country by the pandemic after the United States and Brazil, reported 69,921 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, the lowest in six days.
It took the overall number of cases to 3.69 million, while the death toll from COVID-19 rose by 819 to 65,288. On Sunday, India reported 78,761 new cases, the world’s biggest, single-day tally.