The Ministry of Home Affairs on Tuesday said certain services and activities, for which it had received queries, had already been exempted from the lockdown restrictions put in place to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote a letter to chief secretaries of all states, pointing out that by the ministry’s orders, dated April 15, April 16 and April 19, the Centre had permitted bedside attendants and caregivers of senior citizens to work. The order added that public utilities were exempted from the lockdown, including recharge facilities for prepaid mobile phone connections.

In the letter, Bhalla noted that food processing units like bread factories, milk processing plants, flour mills and dal mills located in urban areas were also allowed to operate. However, the home secretary added: “...National COVID-19 Directives and Standard Operating Procedure for social distancing for offices, workshops, factories and establishments must be ensured” while providing the exempted facilities. He asked the chief secretaries of states to inform district authorities and agencies working on the ground about the exemptions, so as to avoid ambiguity.

The Centre had in guidelines published on April 15 allowed industries in rural areas and all agricultural activities to resume from April 20. These activities have been allowed “to mitigate hardship to public”, the Ministry of Home Affairs had said, adding that no such activity will be allowed in “containment zones”.

The ministry issued the guidelines a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the nationwide lockdown until May 3. Earlier, the lockdown was due to end on April 14.

On April 19, the ministry said that the supply of non-essential items by e-commerce companies will remain prohibited, just four days after allowing such companies to sell mobile phones, refrigerators and clothes.

On April 17, the government made new additions to the list of activities to be permitted in “non hotspots” after April 20. The government said that non-banking financial institutions and micro finance corporations will be allowed to operate with minimum staff. The Centre also allowed the harvesting and processing of minor forest produce, non-timber forest produce by Scheduled Tribes and other forest dwellers.

India has so far reported 18,985 coronavirus cases and 603 deaths. Of these confirmed cases, 15,122 people are being treated, 3,259 people have recovered, and one person has left the country, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.