All schools in Delhi will return to in-person classes from April 1, and all other Covid-19 curbs in the city will be lifted from Monday, lieutenant governor (LG) Anil Baijal and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced on Friday — a decision that came amid a sustained dip in the daily infection count and test positivity rate, as well as demands from schools and business owners.
The decision by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority’s (DDMA) means that there will no longer be a night curfew in the city, while restaurants, cinema halls, banquet halls and public transit systems can operate at full capacity. School students will no longer have the option of attending online classes, and must attend in-person lessons from April 1, state government officials told HT on Friday, even as the agency did not release a formal order on the decisions till the time of going to print.
This is the first time since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 that the Capital will be free of Covid-induced restrictions.
DDMA also reduced the fine for flouting mask norms from ₹2,000 to ₹500, officials said. It, however, stressed that people will still have to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour, including wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.
Kejriwal on Friday tweeted that the decisions were taken owing to hardships caused by a loss of jobs.
“DDMA withdraws all restrictions as situation improves n people facing hardships due to loss of jobs… Schools to function fully offline from 1 Apr… Fines for not wearing masks reduced to ₹500…All shud continue following Covid Appropriate Behaviour. Govt will keep strict watch,” Kejriwal tweeted.
“After detailed discussions with experts, in view of the decline in Covid-19 positive cases and hospitalisation, it was decided to remove all Covid-19 related restrictions in Delhi from February 28, 2022, while adhering to the guidelines issued by the government of India and ensuring observance of Covid Appropriate Behaviour including wearing of masks and maintaining social distancing,” the office of LG Anil Baijal said in a statement after the DDMA meeting. The LG is the chairperson of DDMA, while Kejriwal is its vice-chairperson.
Delhi’s Covid-19 caseload has bent downwards for weeks now, as the city’s fifth wave of infections, fuelled by the Omicron variant of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, began to ease towards the end of January this year. The city added 460 cases of Covid-19 on Friday, which came at a test positivity rate of 0.81% (the lowest since 0.68% on December 27 last year).
The city logged an average of 523 cases each day over the past week, as compared to the peak of 23,529 cases recorded on average in the seven days ending January 15.
At the height of the fifth wave of infections, infections in Delhi peaked at 28,867 cases on January 13, while the test positivity rate hit a high of 30.6% a day later.
The first set of curbs kicked in on December 28last year, as infections began to climb. Since then, the city was put under a series of curbs, including a night curfew from 10pm to 5am, a complete weekend curfew, even as restaurants, bars, educational institutions and religious places were shut, while shops in markets were required to operate on an odd-even basis.
Several of these curbs have been lifted over the past few weeks (including cutting the night curfew by an hour), but the government continued to persist with a few restrictions, which experts said were disproportionate given the downturn in cases, as well as the generally milder symptoms caused by the Omicron variant.
Two senior government officials aware of the matter confirmed that the night curfew will be in place only till 5am on Monday. Restaurants, bars and cinema halls will be allowed to operate with full seating capacity, while markets and malls, including shops dealing with non-essential items, will be allowed to remain open beyond 8pm from Monday. These can remain open even beyond 11pm, since the night curfew has now been lifted. As for weddings and other social events, the rule of operating only up to 50% capacity for banquet halls will also be removed from Monday, and in open areas, weddings and other events may have more than 200 people.
In a major relief for commuters, the Delhi Metro and state-run buses are now allowed to carry passengers to their capacity, as the rule disallowing standing passengers was lifted. Auto-rickshaws and cabs too, can now carry more than two passengers.
Schools in Delhi welcomed the decision to move all classes offline, but urged DDMA to consider asking all students to return from March 1, instead of April 1.
The Action Committee for Unaided Recognised Private Schools, an umbrella body of over 2,000 schools, said it will write to the LG in this regard.
“This will not only allow schools to resume smoothly but will also let students and parents regain confidence before the new session begins,” said a statement from the body.
Dr Nikhil Modi, consultant at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, said as the cases and positivity rate have come down significantly, it was an ideal time to remove all the curbs. “It seems logical to open things now and we should be going ahead with same. However, it must be kept in mind Covid is still not over we cannot leave our Guard down and as an individual it is duty of each one of us to continue to take all precautions in terms of getting vaccinated, wearing mask, sanitisation and social distancing in order to keep a check on covid,” he said.
Yogeshwar Sharma, executive director of Select Infrastructure Private Limited, which maintains Select Citywalk Mall, said, “The lifting of restrictions is a welcome step, considering the decline in cases. While we still need to keep our guard up, the opening of cinema halls and lifting of night curfew will allow all stakeholders to establish a sense of much needed normalcy. This will help bring back positive consumer sentiments as well. We look forward to welcoming all patrons back with meticulous Covid protocols and care.”
Swimming pools, parks, gyms, yoga centres and spas were already opened in the city, according to the last DDMA order, issued on February 4.