New Delhi: The Union Home Ministry on Saturday issued the Unlock 4 guidelines under which metro trains will be allowed to resume services from September 7 in a graded manner, while political, social, and religious congregations of up to 100 people will be permitted from September 21. However, schools, colleges, and other educational and coaching institutions will remain closed for students till September 30, with some relaxations for students of classes 9 to 12. Bars, which have been shut since March, will be allowed to open fro, September 1. In a significant directive, the home ministry said that state governments shall not impose any local lockdown outside the containment zones without prior consultation with the central government. This bears significance as sporadic and weekend lockdowns have been implemented by various state governments across the country. The coronavirus-induced nationwide lockdown was first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from March 25, and it was extended in phases till May 31. The Unlock process of the country had begun on June 1 with the graded reopening of commercial, social, religious, and other activities. Under the Unlock 4 phase, social, academic, sports, entertainment, cultural, religious, political functions, and other congregations will be permitted with a ceiling of 100 people, with effect from September 21. However, such limited gatherings can be held with the mandatory wearing of face masks, social distancing, and provision for thermal scanning and hand wash or sanitizer. The permission to hold political and other gatherings came ahead of the Bihar assembly elections, which are due in October-November. The home ministry said that after extensive consultation with states and UTs, it has been decided that schools, colleges, educational and coaching institutions will continue to remain closed for students and regular class activity up to September 30. Online or distance learning shall continue to be permitted and shall be encouraged. The ministry said that states and union territory governments may permit up to 50 percent of teaching and non-teaching staff to be called to schools at a time for online teaching or tele-counseling and related work. Students of classes 9 to 12 may be permitted to visit their schools in areas outside the containment zones only on a voluntary basis for taking guidance from their teachers. Cinema halls, swimming pools, entertainment parks, theatres, and similar places will remain shut and international air travel of passengers, except as permitted by the MHA, will not be allowed. Open-air theatres will be permitted to open with effect from September 21. Metro rail services, which have been suspended since March 22, will be allowed to resume with effect from September 7 in a graded manner, by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MOHUA) and the Ministry of Railways (MOR), in consultation with the MHA. In this regard, standard operating procedure (SOP) will be issued by the MOHUA. Sources said the SOPs for running the metro trains have already been circulated and will be discussed on September 1 through video conference by the MOHUA with all metro companies and finalized. All MDs have been asked to look into SOPs prepared by the MOHUA earlier in view of the current realities. "All suggestions will be considered in the video conference and accordingly, SOPs will be finalized," the sources said. "Unlock 4 will come into effect from September 1 and will continue till September 30. The new guidelines are based on feedback received from the states and UTs, and extensive consultations held with related central ministries and departments," the home ministry said. Skill or entrepreneurship training will be permitted in National Skill Training Institutes, Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs). Higher education institutions only for research scholars (PhD) and post-graduate students of technical and professional programs requiring laboratory and experimental works will be permitted by the Department of Higher Education (DHE) in consultation with the MHA, based on the assessment of the situation, and keeping in view incidence of COVID-19 in states and UTs. Lockdown shall continue to be implemented strictly in the containment zones till September 30. There will be no restriction on inter-state and intra-state movement of persons and goods. No separate permission, approval, e-permit will be required for such movements. "Vulnerable persons, i.e., persons above 65 years of age, persons with co-morbidities, pregnant women, and children below the age of 10 years, are advised to stay at home, except for meeting essential requirements and for health purposes," the home ministry said. "The use of the Aarogya Setu mobile application will continue to be encouraged," it said.
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