NEW DELHI: Selective relaxation will be given in non-containment areas from April 20, but strict perimeter control will continue in COVID-19 containment zones with nothing except essential services allowed there, the government said on Sunday.
Addressing a daily media briefing for updates on the coronavirus situation, Joint Secretary in the Health Ministry Lav Agarwal said besides Mahe in Puducherry and Kodagu in Karnataka, there has been no new COVID-19 case for the last 14 days in 54 districts across 23 states and Union Territories.
In Mane and Kodagu there has been no coronavirus case since the last 28 days.
Agarwal said in the list of 54 districts, 10 were added on Sunday and these are Gaya and Saran in Bihar, Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, Fatehgarh Sahib and Roopnagar in Punjab; Bhiwani, Hisar and Fatehabad in Haryana, and Kachaar and Lakhimpur in Assam.
The joint secretary also said a high-level task force to work on frontiers of science related to vaccines and drug testing was formed on Sunday.
The task force is co-chaired by member (Health), NITI Aayog, and principal scientific advisor to the prime minister.
Besides them, others are representatives from AYUSH, ICMR, Department of Science and Technology, Biotechnology, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), DRDO, Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) and Drug Controller General of India (DCGI).
This task force will expedite coordination of all ministries' work related to vaccine development.
It will further enable speeding up of research work done through international efforts by academia and research institutions, Agarwal said, adding the biotechnology department has been designated as the nodal agency for vaccine development.
He said 1,334 fresh COVID-19 cases were reported since Saturday morning taking the total number of infections to 15,712.
Of these, 2,231 patients, which is around 14.19 per cent, have been cured, he said.
The death toll due to COVID-19 rose to 519 and the number of cases climbed to 16,116 on Sunday evening, registering an increase of 31 fatalities, the health ministry said.
However, a PTI tally of the figures reported by various states as on Sunday 6:40 pm showed 16,285 case and 538 COVID-19 deaths.
Dr Raman Gangakhedkar, the head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said 3,86,791 COVID-19 tests have been conducted so far with 37,173 done on Saturday.
"As many as 29,287 tests were conducted in 194 laboratories of the ICMR network while the rest were done in 82 private labs on Saturday, which is a significant improvement," he said.
Stressing on the importance of restoring normalcy gradually, Agarwal said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that from April 20 selective relaxation will be given in some areas and in accordance with that, there will be some relaxation in non-containment zones from midnight.
He also said some activities in the agricultural sector and rural economy would be permitted as part of ensuring "Jaan bhi hai jahan bhi hai (life and wellbeing)".
The joint secretary, however, said containment areas will not get the relaxations.
States and Union Territories may impose measures which are more stringent than Centre's guidelines, according to local requirements, he said.
Hotspots or red zones are those areas where either there are a large number of COVID-19 cases or the doubling rate of infection is less than four days, Agarwal explained.
A strict perimeter control will continue in containment zones and nothing except essential services will be allowed there, he said.
Activities to be prohibited till May 3, even in cases of relaxation, are primarily passenger traffic movement by air, rail and road, educational institutions, industrial commercial activities and hospitality services unless they are specifically exempted, the official said.
Along with these, cinema halls, malls, shopping complexes, entertainment parks will be closed while social, political, cultural, religious or academic and sports gatherings will continue to remain prohibited, he said, adding taxis and cab aggregators will also not be allowed to operate.
Relaxation will be there for agricultural activities, daily-wage earners and employment opportunities for some to be monitored, health services to be functional and supply of essential goods to continue, Agarwal said.
The officer also said, "We are working towards creating hospital infrastructure. We have set up 755 dedicated COVID hospitals and 1,389 healthcare centres, taking total dedicated health facilities where severe or critical COVID patients can be treated to 2,144."
Asked about the claim that some scientists at Oxford University have developed a vaccine for COVID-19, ICMR's Dr Gangakhedkar said, "Five groups have entered into the human phase (of testing) after passing the animal (testing) phase." The health ministry also said asymptomatic patients testing COVID-19 positive is not a very big percentage and does not pose a big challenge as of now.
"That is what the historical data across the world has shown us. What is important for us is to be aware of this challenge. We need to make sure that even asymptomatic patients, if they are at high-risk, are monitored, taken care of and coordinated with," Agarwal said.
The health ministry also advised that if asymptomatic patients are cases of contact-history, then they should remain in home-quarantine, while those at high-risk, should go to quarantine facilities so that they can be effectively monitored.