The Centre on Monday extended the enforcement of nationwide Covid-19 containment measures until January 31, 2022, amid concerns over the rise of infections due to the Omicron variant of the virus in different parts of the country.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued an advisory to all the states and Union Territories (UTs), directing them to implement a "normative framework for taking evidence-based containment measures at district and local level and extended the Covid-19 containment measures till January 31 next year. It also said that the National Directives for Covid-19 management, shall continue to be strictly followed throughout the country and all the District Magistrates shall strictly enforce the above measures.
"For the enforcement of social distancing, state and UT governments may, as far as possible, use the provisions of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) of 1973," the advisory said.
According to the advisory, any person violating these measures will be "liable to be proceeded against as per the provisions of Sections 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management Act, besides legal action under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, and other legal provisions, as applicable."
Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla also wrote a letter to all Chief Secretaries to all states and stressed the need for "greater foresight, data analysis, dynamic decision making, and strict and prompt containment actions at the local and district levels, based on the assessment of the situation".
The Home Secretary asked the Chief Secretaries to issue necessary directions to the districts and all other local authorities concerned, to take necessary measures for prompt and effective management of COVID-19, strict compliance with various advisories issued by the MoHFW on the new variant of concern (VOC), and strict enforcement of COVID appropriate behaviour.
He asked that the "states may consider imposing need-based, local curbs and restrictions, to control the crowd during the festive season".
The Home Secretary emphasized that there should be a continued focus on the five-fold strategy-- Test-Track-Treat-Vaccination and adherence to COVID Appropriate Behaviour-- to avoid the possibility of a surge in COVID-19 cases, especially keeping in view the new VoC.
He further suggested that the state enforcement machinery should strictly enforce the norms of COVID appropriate behavior such as wearing masks and maintaining safe social distancing in all public areas or gatherings.
Bhalla said that state governments should ensure that the health systems in the states are strengthened to meet any challenge posed by the new variant.
The Home Secretary stressed, the state governments and UT administrations should ensure that oxygen supply equipment are installed and are fully functional and the buffer stock of essential drugs should also be maintained.
"I would like to reiterate that all the States/UTs must observe all precautions, and not let the guard down," said Bhalla.
He suggested that local and district administrations, based on the normative framework and assessment of the situation, should promptly take appropriate containment measures.
Bhalla said that despite the decline in overall cases, the Omicron variant is reported to be at least three times more transmissible than the Delta variant and is posing a new challenge for the COVID containment measures.
In the countries with Omicron-driven surge, Bhalla mentioned the growth trajectory of cases has been very steep and that "in our country, 578 Omicron cases have already been reported in 19 states and UTs".
The Home Secretary mentioned that Omicron cases have already been reported in 116 countries globally.
Further, Bhalla said, a surge in cases is also being reported across various countries, especially in the USA, the UK, Europe (France, Italy, Spain), Russia, South Africa, Vietnam, and Australia.
With a view to discourage any misinformation in respect of the new VoC, which creates anxiety among the public, the Home Secretary also suggested all states and UTs to proactively and regularly hold media briefings at the highest level to disseminate the right information to them.
"States/UTs should also educate them about various preventive measures undertaken by them and also advise them to strictly follow COVID Appropriate Behaviour," Bhalla added.