NEW DELHI: To intensify efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country, India imposed a lockdown on 75 districts on Sunday, including the national capital New Delhi, and suspended all public transport and railway services until March 31.
“I request that all citizens become part of this nationwide campaign and make the fight against Corona a success,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Sunday.
The decision was taken at a high-level meeting that was attended by chief secretaries from all 29 states and the central government in New Delhi on Sunday.
A Home Ministry official told the media after the meeting that given the escalating cases of coronavirus across the country “there is an urgent need to extend the restrictions on the movement of nonessential passenger transport including interstate transport buses till March 31, 2020.”
The move to shut down more than 75 worst-affected districts — such as Noida, Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, Patna in Bihar and Mumbai in Maharashtra to name a few — was taken on the same day as India began observing a 14-hour lockdown, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., to contain the spread of the virus which has recorded 324 cases this far, after the addition of 41 new infections on Sunday.
Two deaths were reported in the country on Sunday, taking the toll to six.
The death of a person in the eastern state of Bihar has created a sense of panic in the poor and densely populated state with the local government declaring a total lockdown until March 31.
“The state is on edge. The person who died on Sunday had returned from Qatar. The fear is that the virus might spread in the community. It would be catastrophic for a state where most of the districts lack basic medical infrastructure, “ Anup Kumar, a Patna-based doctor told Arab News.
On Friday, when the western state of Maharashtra announced a lockdown in some of its major cities, thousands of workers boarded trains for their home states in eastern India.
“The government should not have allowed the mass movement of people from one place to another when we know what a critical time this is. While the prime minister talks about social distancing; thousands of people were allowed to crisscross many states crammed in trains. Imagine what will happen to the rural community even if just a few of the travelers are infected with the virus,” Kumar said.
Maharashtra has recorded the highest number of infected cases at 74, followed by Kerala at 52, and national capital New Delhi at 27.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal warned people on Sunday that “the situation might get out of hand,” before announcing the closure of all metro services and public transport until March 31.
All flights to and from Delhi have also been suspended, while the borders of the national capital were sealed on Sunday night.
I request that all citizens become part of this nationwide campaign and make the fight against Corona a success.
Narendra Modi, Prime Minister
Meanwhile, five states in India – Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Punjab – have also sealed their borders and declared a complete lockdown.
“India is going to be the next hot spot of this epidemic,” Dr Ramanan Laxminarayan of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, a public health research organization based in Delhi, said.
Talking to the media in Delhi on Saturday he added that “density of the population makes the transmission of the disease easier in India and the country would be dealing with roughly about 300 million cases.”
Dr Naresh Trehan, of Gurugram-based Medanta hospital, said he had asked “the government to extend the nationwide lockdown or curfew for ten more days to contain the virus effectively.”
Meanwhile, the opposition Congress party on Saturday questioned the government’s approach to handling the virus.
In a statement, party president Sonia Gandhi said that “the government should provide financial support to workers, businesses and farmers and extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.”
The party also asked the government to test all suspected cases. “We must begin by testing all cases under surveillance and expand to all other symptomatic cases and those coming into contact with the ones testing positive,” she said.