New Delhi- Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday extended the nationwide lockdown for another 19 days till May 3, and proposed certain relaxations after April 20 in places with no hotspots as also which have less likelihood to turn into a hotspot.
In a 25-minute televised address on the last day of the ongoing three-week lockdown, he said extensive guidelines on the second phase of the lockdown will be issued on Wednesday, asserting that his biggest priority is to save lives and minimise the hardships being faced by daily wagers and farmers.
Admitting that the lockdown has come at a huge economic cost, Modi, however, asserted that India has chosen the correct path, and managed to avert to a large extent the damage caused by the pandemic in many countries.
He also noted that most of the state governments, experts and other stakeholders recommended the extension of the lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. There are 10,363 confirmed cases of coronavirus with 339 deaths due to COVID-19 so far in India, as per the Union health ministry data.
At least eight states –Tamil Nadu, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, Maharashtra, Telangana, West Bengal and Karnataka– have already extended the lockdown till April 30, and Union government sources pointed out that it has been stretched till May 3 as May 1 is a public holiday, and May 2 and 3 is a weekend.
Just a thought of how much harm could have been caused to the country if his government had not followed a “holistic and integrated” approach gives him “goosebumps”, he added.
Amid demands from certain quarters that economic activities be allowed to start, Modi said the lockdown will be strictly implemented for a week, and every area will be evaluated before a decision on allowing some “select necessary activities” will be taken.
“Areas that will succeed in this litmus test, which will not be in the hot-spot category, and will have less likelihood to turn into a hot-spot maybe allowed to open up select necessary activities from 20 April. However, keep in mind, this permission will be conditional, and the rules for going out will be very strict. Permission will be withdrawn immediately if lockdown rules are broken, and spread of coronavirus risked,” he asserted.
Noting that India is in a much better position in terms of the loss of lives than several developed nations, Modi said,”our experience makes it clear that the path we have chosen is the right way,”
While BJP president J P Nadda and Union ministers urged people to support government’s decision, Modi’s address drew strong criticism from the Congress, which termed it as “rhetoric and hollow on specifics”, saying there was no mention of a financial package or concrete steps to revive the economy.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala asked where is the country’s roadmap to fight coronavirus while his senior party colleague P Chidambaram tweeted “the poor have been left to fend for themselves for 21+19 days, including practically soliciting food. There is money, there is food, but the government will not release either money or food. Cry, my beloved country.”
After Modi’s address, the civil aviation ministry also announced that all international and domestic commercial passenger flights will remain suspended till midnight of May 3. Domestic and international commercial passenger flights were earlier suspended from March 25 to April 14.
The railways also extended suspension of all its passenger services till May 3 while movement of goods and parcel trains will remain operational to ensure essential supplies in various parts of the country.
The railways also said that all counters for booking of rail journey tickets for reserved/unreserved travel at railway stations and outside railway station premises shall remain closed till May 3 midnight.
Modi appeared on television with his face covered with a ‘gamcha’ (Indian stole for men) which he removed at the start of his address. His personal Twitter handle also posted the photograph of him wearing a face cover.
Asserting that India’s fight against the coronavirus has been moving ahead with great strength and resolve, the prime minister lauded citizens for their “restraint and sacrifice” to “save your India”.
“During this time (till May 3), we must continue maintaining discipline in the same way we have been doing so far. A single new patient anywhere, should be a matter of concern for us… Any new hot spot will pose a new challenge,” Modi said.
With critics, including opposition leaders, often questioning his government’s alleged delay and lack of preparedness in tackling the crisis, Modi strongly defended its approach, noting that India began screening travellers from corona-affected countries even before it has reported any case of its own.
“When we had only 550 Corona cases, then itself India had taken the big step of a 21-day complete lockdown. India did not wait for the problem to aggravate. Rather, we attempted to nip the problem in the bud by taking quick decisions,” he asserted.
The prime minister said several countries were at par with India in terms of the number of corona infections but the cases in those countries are 25 to 30 times more now compared to it.
He also sought the support of the people in seven areas, including taking care of the elderly people, maintaining social distancing and helping the poor.
Stressing on the need to follow lockdown guidelines, he said every town, every police station, every district, every state will be tested on how much they are adhering to them before being allowed certain relaxations.
Modi assured citizens that there is adequate stock of medicines and rations in the country, and it has also ramped up its health infrastructure to deal with the crisis.
Noting that global experience shows that 1500-1600 beds are required for every 10,000 patients, he said India has already made arrangements for over 1 Lakh beds, with over 600 hospitals dedicated for coronavirus treatment.
The catastrophic effect of the lockdown on the country’s economy and livelihoods of migrants and daily wage workers has triggered concerns, with a number of chief ministers in their video conference with Modi on Saturday seeking relaxation for a number of sectors.
Meanwhile, India Inc supported the nationwide lockdown extension, saying it was necessary to avert a humanitarian crisis, but insisted on the need for a stimulus package to rebuild the economy hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Late last month, the government announced a Rs 1.7 lakh crore package aimed at providing relief to those hit hard by the lockdown.
Acknowledging the pain it has inflicted on people, especially the poor, Moidi said, “I am well aware of the problems you have faced, some for food, some for movement from place to place and some due to staying away from their homes and families. However, for the sake of your country, you are fulfilling your duties like a disciplined soldier.”
Invoking B R Ambedkar, the architect of India’s constitution whose birth anniversary falls on Tuesday, the prime minister said the nation has paid true tribute to him by displaying its collective strength.
This is the power of “We, the People of India” that our constitution talks about, he said.
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