Bihar lifted most Covid restrictions on Wednesday and announced the reopening of educational and business establishments, as the state prepares to hold three-month panchayat polls.
Although Bihar has reported a negligible number of Covid cases in recent times, health experts have expressed dismay at the government appearing to be putting all caution to the wind at a time when the highly infectious variant of the Delta has held the country in suspense and a third wave seems imminent.
The 11-phase panchayat elections are scheduled to be held from September 24 to December 12. The schedule was announced on Tuesday. Elections will be held at 2.55 lakh positions in the three-tier panchayati raj system. There are 6.39 crore voters in the state. The polls were due to take place in April but have been postponed due to the pandemic.
Covid cases have grown exponentially in Bengal, Kerala and other states and fueled the devastating second wave of the pandemic earlier this year after Assembly elections.
The decision to lift most restrictions came after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar chaired a meeting of the crisis management group made up of several ministers and officials to review the Covid-19 situation.
All businesses and educational institutions can now operate normally. Social, political, cultural and sporting events can be organized without restriction. Religious places, closed since April 10, have also been allowed to reopen.
“We took stock of the Covid situation. All stores, establishments, malls, parks, gardens and religious places can now open normally due to the improvement in the spread of the coronavirus infection, ”Nitish tweeted after the meeting.
“All kinds of social, political, entertainment, sporting, cultural and religious events can be organized with the necessary precautions and the authorization of the relevant district administration. All universities, colleges, technical schools, schools and training centers can open normally and exams can also be held, ”Nitish added.
However, cinemas, clubs, gymnasiums, swimming pools, restaurants and other dining venues will be able to operate with 50% occupancy.
“We the people of Bihar must adopt appropriate Covid behavior and precautions in light of the expected third wave,” Nitish tweeted.
Later that day, Chief Secretary Tripurari Sharan issued detailed instructions on lifting the restrictions. Bihar had imposed most of them in April, but was forced to carry out a full lockdown on May 5 after the second wave of the pandemic wreaked havoc on the state.
Government guidelines state that only those who have taken at least one dose of the Covid vaccine will be allowed to work in commercial establishments, restaurants and coaching centers, and to enjoy facilities at clubs, swimming pools and gyms. Only people inoculated with at least one dose will be allowed to enter government offices.
The government of Bihar will conduct rapid antigen testing on people from states that report a large number of cases of Covid or cases of the Delta variant. People whose RT-PCR report has been negative for less than 72 hours will not need to be tested upon entering Bihar.
Medical experts have expressed shock at the removal of most of the restrictions.
Indian Medical Association Bihar Unit Secretary Dr Sunil Kumar told the Telegraph: “Bihar is bhagwan bharose (at the mercy of God)…. Everyone knows that only the first lockdown that was imposed around the end of March 2020 and that continued until the end of April was in effect in the state. None of the blockages subsequently succeeded. “We rarely see appropriate behavior for Covid in the state. The application is dismal. More precautions are needed at a time when the third wave of the pandemic is expected. Men and women died like animals in the second wave here. There was no oxygen and no beds in the hospitals, people had to wait hours in lines in front of cremation places to perform the last rites of their loved ones, ”he added.
IMA National President-elect Dr Sahajanand Singh, however, said the unlock was “necessary to ensure that people do not starve and the economy improves.” Even otherwise, Covid cases across the country are low right now ”.