New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a three-week nationwide “complete lockdown" from midnight Tuesday in the world’s largest such exercise aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus that has infected 557 people and claimed the lives of 10 in the country.
“From midnight today, there will be a complete lockdown. To save India, to save every citizen, to save you and your family, from 12am, there will be a complete ban on stepping out of the house. Every state, every village, union territory is being locked down. This is a step further than the Janata curfew. It is a step that is needed," Modi said in a televised address to the nation.
The inclement step was taken by the union government in a calibrated manner, beginning with an appeal by the PM last week to practice “social isolation", a ‘Janata curfew’ on Sunday and the banning of domestic flights. The PM, however, clarified that essential services will continue to be exempt.
“We are making efforts that there is no difficulty in daily life. We are taking all steps to ensure continuous essential supplies."
Signalling the rising threat from the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, Modi said this drastic measure was necessary to protect the state of India’s health and economy.
Arun Singhal, special secretary, union health ministry, said, “Numbers (of infections) don’t point to stage 3 yet."
Modi repeatedly emphasized the gravity of the situation and the need for self-isolation, saying: “Negligence, wrong-thinking are jeopardising the lives of your family members, friends and even the entire country. This could cause immense harm to India."
“Twenty-one days of lockdown is a long time, but it is important to save you and your family—this is the only way we have," Modi said warning: “This is as good as a curfew."
A successful implementation of measures to prevent the pandemic by India could also pave the way for the nation’s mindset reset, something that has not been tried on this scale for 1.3 billion people in a democratic nation.
“Today’s action will determine how we can minimize the impact of this challenge on India. It is time to show patience at every step. This is the time for courage and discipline," Modi said.
Experts welcomed the move but cautioned about challenges in enforcing it in a country as large and diverse as India.
“It is a good decision taken by the Prime Minister to lock down the country in the fight against spread of Coronavirus. The decision must have been taken after consultation with medical experts. The government would be able to implement this decision in big cities, and small towns but how will this decision get implemented in villages. There are so many villages in the country, what is the plan to implement this," said Badri Narayan, an Allahabad-based political analyst.
“The government should also provide financial assistance to daily wage labourers and people of financially weaker sections because this kind of lockdown will impact them the most and they will find it difficult to live in the absence of work. Most of the financially weaker sections earn every day so the government must provide some assistance to them," Narayan added. In his previous address to the nation on Thursday, Modi had dipped into the public goodwill that had brought him back to power in 2019 with a greater majority than before and appealed to people to stay home on 22 March between 7am and 9pm to fight the rapidly spreading virus.
In his latest speech, Modi also announced a ₹15,000 crore package towards containing the coronavirus outbreak which he said was for testing facilities, personal protective equipment, isolation beds, intensive care beds, ventilators and other facilities.