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New Delhi, Apr 27 () As India entered the last week of the 40-day nationwide lockdown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday told chief ministers that the country will have to give importance to economy as well as continue the fight against coronavirus, in a clear indication that strict restrictions could be limited to COVID-19 hotspots while curbs can be eased gradually in areas not affected by the virus.

In a video conference with the chief ministers, fourth such interaction since March 22 when he first spoke to them about the pandemic, Modi stressed on the need for the states to strictly enforce lockdown guidelines in the coronavirus hotspots zones, and strongly pitched for the mantra of ‘do gaz doori’ (a distance of two yards) to protect people from the infection, according to a government statement.

During the meeting, a majority of the chief ministers wanted the lockdown to continue after May 3 and told the prime minister that some economic activity should be started slowly, Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy told reporters.

Asserting that “the lockdown has yielded positive results as the country has managed to save thousands of lives in the past one and a half months”, Modi, however, forewarned that “the danger of the virus is far from over and constant vigilance is of paramount importance”.

He also asked the states to focus on “rapid response” in dealing with the pandemic, adding wearing masks and face covers would become part of people’s lives for times to come.

India is under a 40-day nationwide lockdown since March 25. The first phase of the nationwide lockdown of 21 days was announced by Modi on March 24, it was later extended by 19 days till May 3 to cut the transmission of the virus, which has infected around 28,000 people and claimed 872 lives in India.

The prime minister’s interaction with the chief ministers came amid calls from some states to allow economic activities to reduce the devastating impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on the economy as well as on livelihoods of lakhs of migrant workers.

“We have to give importance to the economy as well as continue the fight against COVID -19,” Modi said, adding it is important for “states to enforce guidelines strictly in the hotspots i.e the red zone areas and the efforts of the states should be directed towards converting the red zones into orange and thereafter to green zones.”

Sources in the government said the lockdown may be lifted in a gradual manner and restrictions are likely to continue in the coronavirus hotspots.

Chief ministers were unanimous in telling the prime minister that there should be a cautious approach in lifting the lockdown, given that the coronavirus cases were still rising in the country, Naraynswamy said.

“The prime minister should take a call on what needs to be done,” he added.

Office of Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, in a statement, said Modi asked the states to try to convert the COVID-19 challenge into opportunities through administrative reforms, and form their own policies on relaxing the lockdown based on ground realities.

According to a Gujarat government official, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani favoured a gradual lifting of the coronavirus-enforced lockdown during the interaction.

Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said his government is of the opinion that the lockdown in the coastal state should be extended beyond May 3.

Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, in a series of tweets, said he favoured extending the lockdown while allowing activities in areas not affected by COVID-19.

Sangma said he also suggested that an ‘Economic Task Force’ be set-up by all the states for the exchange of ideas and possible solutions to initiate economic activities by adhering to necessary precautionary protocols.

Meanwhile, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee alleged that the Centre was making contradictory statements on enforcement of the lockdown, and wanted greater clarity on the recent union home ministry order on reopening shops.

Claiming that many states were not allowed to speak during Modi’s video conference owing to the rotation system, Banerjee said given a chance she would have raised several questions,including the need to send central teams to Bengal.

Jharkhand Hemant Soren also said the state government has decided not to implement till May 3 the Centre’s guidelines giving relaxations to some shops due to a sudden spurt in COVID-19 cases.

According to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office, he did not participate in the video conference as only nine chief ministers had the opportunity to interact. The state was represented by Chief Secretary Tom Jose and Additional Chief Secretary Vishwas Mehta at the video conference.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar told Modi that the state is scrupulously adhering to the central guidelines on the lockdown, and it will not be possible to bring back students from places like Kota until the directions are suitably amended

The prime minister emphasized on the importance of use of technology as much as possible and also to utilize time to embrace reform measures, the statement said, adding he also talked about the significance of ensuring that more people download the Aarogya Setu app to bolster the efforts of the country in the battle against COVID-19.

“We have to be brave and bring in reforms that touch the lives of common citizens,” Modi said.

India’s population is comparable to that of the combined population of several countries, Modi said, adding that the situation in many countries, including India, was almost similar at the start of March. “However, due to timely measures, India has been able to protect many people,” he added.

On the issue of bringing back Indians stranded abroad, Modi said it has to be done keeping in mind the fact that they do not get inconvenienced and their families do not come under any risk.

The prime minister also urged chief ministers to factor in the changes in weather – advent of summer and monsoon – and the illnesses that can potentially come in this season, while planning for the way ahead, the government said.

Among those present at the virtual meet, included Home Minister Amit Shah, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and top officials from the PMO and the Union Health Ministry.

The chief ministers who attended the meeting included Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi), Trivendra Singh Rawat (Uttarakhand) and Yogi Adityanath (Uttar Pradesh). NAB MPB PYKPYK

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