New Delhi:

The Union Home Ministry on Wednesday issued new guidelines for permitting more activities in areas outside the containment zones that include opening up cinemas, theatres and multiplexes with up to 50 per cent of their seating capacity from October 15.

States and UT governments have been given the flexibility to decide on reopening schools and coaching institutions after October 15 in a graded manner, and permitting social, religious and political gatherings beyond the limit of 100 persons, subject to certain conditions. Business to Business (B2B) Exhibitions will be permitted and the SOP will be issued by the Department of Commerce.

However, the ministry said that restrictions on international travel, except those permitted by the Centre, will continue. Swimming pools being used for training of sportspersons will be allowed to open for which the standard operating procedure (SOP) will be issued by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.

The new guidelines are based on feedback received from states and UTs, and extensive consultations held with related central ministries and departments, the statement said.

For the re-opening of schools and coaching institutions, State and UT governments can decide to do so after October 15, in a graded manner. The decision shall be taken in consultation with the respective school and institution management, based on their assessment of the situation, and subject to certain conditions, it said. Online or distance learning shall continue to be the preferred mode of teaching and shall be encouraged, the ministry said.

Where schools are conducting online classes, if some students prefer to attend online classes rather than physically attend school, they may be permitted to do so. Students may attend schools and institutions only with the written consent of parents. Attendance must not be enforced, and must depend entirely on parental consent, the home ministry said.

States and UTs will prepare their own SOP regarding health and safety precautions for the reopening of schools and institutions based on the SOP to be issued by the Department of School Education and Literacy, Union Ministry of Education, keeping local requirements in view. Schools, which are allowed to open, will have to mandatorily follow the SOP to be issued by education departments of states and UTs.

Department of Higher Education under the Ministry of Education may take a decision on the timing of the opening of colleges and higher education institutions, in consultation with the home ministry, based on the assessment of the situation, the ministry said. However, higher education institutions only for research scholars (Ph.D.) and post-graduate students in the science and technology stream requiring laboratory and experimental works will be permitted to open from October 15.

The lockdown shall continue to be implemented strictly in the containment zones till October 31, the ministry said. The home ministry reiterated that states will not impose any local lockdown outside the containment zones without prior consultation with the central government. There will be no restriction on inter-state and intra-state movement.

The coronavirus induced country-wide lockdown was first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from March 25 and it was extended in phases till May 31. The Unlock process in the country had begun on June 1 with the graded reopening of commercial, social, religious and other activities. India's coronavirus tally has mounted to 62,25,763 on Wednesday, while the death toll climbed to 97,497.