PM Modi declares three-week lockdown as Covid-19 cases cross 500

  • Signalling the rising threat from the spread of Covid-19, PM Modi said this measure was necessary to protect the state of India’s health and its economy
  • FM Sitharaman on Tuesday announced various statutory and regulatory compliance relief measures amid a complete shutdown almost all over India

Elizabeth Roche, Utpal Bhaskar
Updated24 Mar 2020
Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses the nation on coronavirus pandemic, in New Delhi, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses the nation on coronavirus pandemic, in New Delhi, Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (Photo: PTI)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a three week country-wide lock down from midnight on Tuesday to break the cycle of Coronavirus infections in India as the numbers of those infected in the country climbed to 515 and 10 deaths were reported.

Signalling the rising threat from the spread of Covid-19, Modi said this drastic measure was necessary to protect the state of India’s health and its economy.

“Negligence, wrong-thinking are jeopardising the lives of your family members, friends and even the entire country,” he said, adding, “This could cause immense harm to India.”

“From midnight today, there will be a complete lock down. To save India, to save every citizen, to save you and your family, from 12.00 hrs, there will be a complete ban on stepping out of 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.

“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 towards preventing the pandemic by India will also pave the way for the nation’s mindset reset; something that has been not tried on this scale for 1.3 billion people in a democratic framework.

“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,” the prime minister said.

"It is a good decision made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lockdown 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 everyday so the government must provide some assistance to them," Narayan added.

In his previous address to the nation on Thursday, Modi had dipped into public goodwill that had brought him back to power in the April-May 2019 polls with a greater majority than before and appealed to people to stay home on 22 March between 7 am and 9 pm to fight the rapidly-spreading coronavirus. “Janata curfew (People’s curfew) – janta curfew for the people, janata curfew by the people, self imposed janata curfew on 22 March between 7 am and 9 pm," he had then said. But video clips of people violating the lockdowns imposed by states have come in from different parts of the country including scenes of celebrations after the daylong lockdown on Sunday that saw people gather in numbers and in close proximity.

At 107, Maharastra leads in terms of number of people affected by COVID-19 and Kerala comes in second with 105. Worldwide, Covid-19 has caused almost 400,000 infections and more than 17,000 deaths according to a live tracker of the disease run by the US based Johns Hopkins University.

“The virus is spreading so fast that despite all efforts and preparations made by developed countries, the challenge is growing,” Modi said stressing the importance of social distancing.

“It took 68 days for the first one lakh people to get infected. It then took another 11 days only to infect another one lakh. From then onwards, it took four days to infect the next one lakh people…. We should not step out of our house no matter what. Social distancing from the prime minister to every citizen in the villages. Only when we do not cross our line, we can break the chain of infection,” Modi said.

From delaying the Tokyo Olympics by a year to finding parking slots for idling aircrafts, countries across the globe are firming up measures to fight the pandemic, that has rocked the world economy. Countries have closed borders, businesses downed shutters and airlines have stopped operations in a bid to slow the spread of the infections that have overwhelmed countries like Italy. Prices of oil have crashed and markets worldwide have also plummeted though some indices showed signs of recovery on Tuesday. Many countries have announced special economic packages to support small industries and as well as vulnerable sections of their population in a bid to contain the economic impact of the pandemic with no one able to predict when the crisis will bottom out.

India had already announced stoppage of intercity trains and airline services till 31 March. Inter city buses had also been stopped. Five hundred and forty eight districts across 30 states and union territories had already been put under lockdown to stem the infections caused by the SARS-CoV2.

In his speech, Modi said that steps had been taken to ensure that supplies of essential items including food were maintained though he did not elaborate.

Clarifying the Prime Minister’s remark on essential services, the home ministry advised against people stepping out of their homes for groceries of medicines.

“If they home deliver, please have it delivered. Under no circumstance is one to step out,” the ministry said. All inter-state supplies of all essential products such as groceries and medicines would be permitted, it said adding to monitor the situation of people movement, the Centre is also putting in place a stringent patrolling and punishment mechanism.

“We have observed that people are not abiding by the lockdown. We will be keeping a very strict vigil. Only if absolutely necessary to go buy an essential commodity, only one person must step out to procure the product – but only if it is absolutely mandatory,” the ministry said.

In his speech Modi also announced a Rs15,000 crore package towards containing the coronavirus outbreak which he said was towards testing facilities, personal protective equipment, isolation beds, intensive care beds, ventilators and other facilities.

Modi also spoke about the plight of the poor people given their troubles in the backdrop of a complete lockdown and said that while there will be an economic cost to the lockdown, but saving every Indian’ life is a priority.

With India coming to a standstill and its citizens indoors to prevent the spread of virus, the informal or gig economy has ground to a halt.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday announced various statutory and regulatory compliance relief measures amid a complete shutdown almost all over the country to control the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus or Covid-19 infection.

Analyst Narayan also said that there was a needed to calculate the economic cost of the decision and the spread of the coronavirus and how much it is going impact the economy in the coming weeks.

Punishment for simple violation the lockdown includes one month in prison and/or a fine of rs 200, according to the home ministry guidelines issued on Tuesday.

However if the offender is seen as causing endangerment to life, the penalty includes six months in prison and/or 1000 as fine, the Home Ministry said.

Gyan Verma and Shaswati Das contributed to this report

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