NEW DELHI :
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said that the three-week-long nationwide lockdown is a small price to pay for warding off the danger posed by the rapid spread of Covid-19, although he admitted that his decree would inconvenience people.
Speaking to representatives from his Lok Sabha constituency of Varanasi, the prime minister’s first direct engagement with the public after Tuesday’s announcement, Modi addressed concerns that have emerged after the union government announced the lockdown, the most severe such measure undertaken by any government in human history.
The prime minister not only reassured citizens that an adequate supply of essential commodities would be made available but also sought to enlist people’s help in dealing with the challenge of isolating 1.3 billion people to prevent further transmission of the deadly virus. “The war in Mahabharat continued for 18 days, we will win this war in 21 days. The entire country has come together to fight against the threat of coronavirus and we will definitely win this war," Modi said, adding, “We will be living in denial if we believe that this lockdown will not inconvenience people. But this is nothing compared to the devastation that this virus will cause to our country if its growth is left unchecked."
In the course of his interaction, Modi sought to address concerns relating to challenges faced by the police and administration, impact of the lockdown on the poor and financially weaker sections, and harassment in some quarters of doctors, nurses and medical staff who are on the forefront of the fight against the viral disease.
“We have to help the administration and police. People should try not to put pressure on them unnecessarily. We should help them do their duties and not burden them. Social distancing is most important to fight against coronavirus because there are no medicines or vaccines," said Modi.
The PM said he was distressed reading reports that some people were harassing doctors, nurses and medical staff who are leading the fight against Covid-19.
“I appeal to all the citizens, if you notice any incident where professionals, such as doctors and nurses, are ill-treated then you should take an initiative to make such people understand that they are wrong. I have told home ministry and DGPs to take strict action against those who are not supporting or not cooperating with doctors, nurses and other professionals who are serving us in this critical time," Modi said.
He said that doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who are working in white uniforms in hospitals “are next only to God".
“These days, people in hospitals are working for around 18 hours per day, people in healthcare sector are not getting more than 2-3 hours of sleep. Civil society members are working day and night to help the poor. We should salute such people who are serving society in this critical hour," Modi added.
The prime minister also cautioned against believing rumours being spread through social media and the tendency of people to self-medicate.
“At times, people do not pay attention to things which are important. The same is happening in India. I request people to understand the facts and not believe in rumours. Covid-19 does not discriminate between the rich and the poor. The threat is for everyone," Modi said. Admitting that the poor and financially weaker sections needed to be given greater attention, the prime minister appealed to people to draw on the traditional Indian practice of giving and adopt nine such needy people for the next 21 days.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly made an emotional appeal to the people about social distancing, helping the poor and financially weaker section by not cutting their salaries or providing them with food. But there should be greater clarity on the policy decisions made by the union government about the economic package, the preparedness of medical facilities and steps taken by the union government and state governments to ensure that the country is medically prepared to deal with the threat of coronavirus," Sanjay Kumar, political analyst and director of Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.