Coronavirus (COVID-19): Underlining that “we have chosen the correct path” and “our country has greatly benefited from social distancing and lockdown”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced extension of the three-week lockdown by another 19 days until May 3, with intensive containment measures at hotspots.
In a televised address to the nation, the Prime Minister, while acknowledging “the problems you have faced — some for food, some for movement from place to place, and others for staying away from homes and families”, said the lockdown will be enforced strictly until April 20, after which there could be conditional relaxation in specific areas following assessment of the situation.
“Until 20th April, every town, every police station, every district, every state will be evaluated on how much the lockdown is being followed. The extent to which the region has protected itself from coronavirus will be noted,” Modi said.
“Areas that will succeed in this litmus test, which will not be in the hotspot category, and will have less likelihood to turn into a hotspot, may be allowed to open up select necessary activities from 20th 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Permission will be withdrawn immediately if lockdown rules are broken, and spread of coronavirus risked,” he said, adding that the government will issue guidelines Wednesday in this regard.
Hours after the Prime Minister’s address, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), in an order, said that guidelines for the fresh lockdown would remain the same as issued on March 24 and modified subsequently on multiple occasions.
It, however, left scope for relaxation, saying these guidelines could be modified whenever necessary.
“NDMA after assessing the situation on COVID-19 epidemic is satisfied that strict social distancing measures need to be implemented for a further period so as to effectively contain the spread… NDMA has issued an order… directing the Chairperson, National Executive Committee that existing lockdown measures be continued to be implemented in all parts of the country, up to 03.05.2020,” the order stated.
Tuning the response to the pandemic, the Prime Minister set out two broad metrics – no expansion to greener areas and no proliferation of hotspots in existing areas.
“We must not let coronavirus spread to new areas at any cost. A single new patient at even the smallest local level should be a matter of concern for us. The tragic death of even a single patient from coronavirus should increase our concern even further,” was the first metric he highlighted.
He then followed it with a call to be “vigilant about hotspots”. “We will have to keep a close and strict watch on the places which run the risk of becoming hotspots. The creation of new hotspots will further challenge our hard work and penance,” he said.
In his address, the Prime Minister did not mention any economic package or plan — states have been urging the Centre to take measures to tide over the economic gloom.
But he did underline the provision of “limited exemption” in identified areas after April 20 “keeping in mind the livelihood of our poor brothers and sisters”.
“Those who earn daily, make ends meet with daily income, they are my family. One of my topmost priorities is to reduce the difficulties in their lives. The government has made every possible effort to help them through Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojna. Their interests have also been taken care of while making the new guidelines. These days, the harvesting of the Rabi crop is also in progress. The central and state governments are working together to minimize the problems of the farmers,” he said.
The country, he said, has “ample reserves of medicines, food-ration and other essential goods; and supply chain constraints are continuously being removed”.
“We will issue detailed guidelines tomorrow. We are making attempts so that farmers, poor people are least affected. If we have patience, we will defeat the coronavirus,” he said.
Until April 12, COVID-19 cases have been reported from at least 354 districts – almost every second district of the country. The spread was across 284 districts a week ago and 211 districts a week before that. But, as of April 12, 228 of these 354 districts had recorded less than 10 positive cases. Strict compliance of the lockdown could help health workers trace and test contacts to isolate potential suspect cases, prevent the disease from spreading further in these areas.
The Prime Minister referred to countries badly hit by the virus: “Corona cases in those countries are 25 to 30 times than that of India. Thousands of people have tragically died in those countries. Had India not adopted a holistic and integrated approach, taking quick and decisive action, the situation in India today would have been completely different.”
Echoing what he said earlier – Jaan hai to jahan hai (there is a world only if there is life) – Modi made clear that economic costs could not be as grave as loss of life. “From an economic only point of view, it undoubtedly looks costly right now, but measured against the lives of Indian citizens, there is no comparison itself. The path that India has taken within our limited resources has become a topic of discussion in the entire world today,” he said.
He praised the citizens for the “discipline and cooperation” they have extended: “It is only because of your restraint, penance and sacrifice that, India has so far been able to avert the harm caused by corona to a large extent. You have endured immense suffering to save your country, save your India.”
He acknowledged the work done by the state governments and local bodies in tackling the outbreak and said there was consensus between the state governments and the Centre on extending the lockdown.
Acknowledging the hardships faced by the public, Modi said it was also reflective of the will of “we, the people of India” to face the adversity posed by this pandemic.
“This display of our collective strength, by us, the people of India, is a true tribute to Baba Saheb Doctor Bhim Rao Ambedkar, on his birth anniversary. Baba Saheb’s life inspires us to combat each challenge with determination and hard work”.
Stating that the government had been able to ramp up its health infrastructure to deal with the pandemic, he reached out to young scientists: “While India has limited resources today, I have a special request for India’s young scientists: come forward and take the lead in creating a vaccine for coronavirus — for the welfare of the world, for the welfare of the human race.”