India has decided to end all covid-19 containment measures from March 31, two years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government imposed what was the world’s strictest lockdown, prompting millions of nervous migrant labourers to walk thousands of kilometres back to their villages.
In a letter to states and federally-administered territories, Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said there may not be any further need to invoke provisions of the Disaster Management Act for covid containment measures.
India’s decision to end its national covid plan comes at a time when the World Health Organisation data suggests the number of new cases globally rose by 7% in the last week, driven by rising infections in the Western Pacific. Cases have surged in recent days, driven by a more infectious omicron variant and the suspension of covid curbs in several countries in Europe, North America and South Korea, where total cases have topped 10 million, a whopping 20% of the population.
Bhalla, however, said that covid-appropriate behaviour such as masking, social distancing, and hand hygiene should continue to be observed in India’s response to the pandemic.
The government’s decision, which effectively means it no longer will treat the pandemic as a natural disaster, was spurred by a steep decline in daily cases and the overall caseload in the country.
Further, the country has over the past two years bolstered its covid-management capacities in terms of diagnostics, surveillance, contact tracing, vaccination, and hospital infrastructure, obviating the need for central guidelines under the disaster law.
Bhalla, however, advised caution in view of the nature of the viral disease. “We still need to remain watchful of the situation. Wherever any surge in the number of cases is observed, the states/Union territories may consider taking prompt and proactive action at local level, as advised by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.”