NEW DELHI: In an unprecedented move, India declared 21 days of lockdown for its 1.3 billion citizens from midnight on Tuesday to contain the escalating coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the announcement on Tuesday evening in a televised address to the nation.
“From midnight, the entire country will be in lockdown, total lockdown. To save India, to save its every citizen, you, your family, every street, every neighbourhood is being put under lockdown,” Modi said in his second address in the last five days.
He added that: “21 days’ lockdown may seem to be a long time, but this is the only way to ensure everyone is safe. If we don’t handle these 21 days well, then our country, your family will go backwards by 21 years.”
Referring to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, the prime minister said that it takes 67 days for the virus to spread to 100,000 people, 11 days to reach 200,000 people but only four days to reach the next 100,000.
Modi also announced 15,000 crore rupees ($2 million) of assistance to develop the country’s health care system so it can deal with COVID-19. The money will be used to improve testing facilities, personal protective equipment, intensive care units, ventilators and for training medical workers.
Major states of India had already announced lockdowns on Sunday by sealing borders and only giving freedom of movement to essential services.
From midnight on Tuesday, all domestic flights have been suspended until March 31. This comes almost a week after the suspension of all international flights.
Train services across the country were put on hold until March 31 from Sunday.
Delhi has been in a state of lockdown since Monday with the suspension of all public transport and the sealing of the border.
India has more than 500 COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, with ten recorded deaths so far.
Medical experts worry that without stringent measures like social distancing and quarantines, the virus will become overwhelming in the world’s second-most populous nation.
“Social distancing and lockdowns are the only answer to contain the virus. A country like India cannot cope with the virus if it spreads to the community,” Dr Arvind Kumar, who works at Delhi-based Sir Gangaram Hospital, told Arab News.
Immediately after the prime minister’s announcement on Tuesday, people flocked to grocery and vegetable shops.
“This is unprecedented. We have to stock some rations to sustain in this emergency. The announcement is too sudden”, Sambhu Prasad, a resident of Mokama in Bihar’s Patna district, told Arab News.
Delhi-based political analyst and economist Pranjoy Guha Thakaruta said that Modi should have announced some specific measures for poor people to cope with the crisis.
“Why did the prime minister not announce any specific measures for the poor, the daily-wage worker and the homeless? How will they survive for the next 3 weeks? What about those who are faced with a choice of either feeding their families or contracting the virus?”