A Rs 1.7 lakh crore relief package for the vulnerable and poor, deserted roads in cities usually overflowing with people and heartbreaking images of migrants setting off on foot to reach their native villages — these have been the headlines as the country completed its first week of the 21-day lockdown that was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in order to break the transmission chain of the coronavirus.
In the past week, the number of coronavirus cases has tripled from 519 to 1,637 while the death toll has seen a rise from 10 to 38. However, on the brighter side, about 132 people have recovered and been discharged so far, according to the latest Health Ministry data. Follow LIVE Updates
Immediately after PM Narendra Modi on March 24 announced a complete lockdown across the country for 21 days, there were reports of panic buying for groceries and provisions from across the nation. “By converging around shops, you are risking the spread of COVID-19. No panic buying please. Please stay indoors. I repeat — the Centre and State governments will ensure all essentials are open,” PM Modi tweeted.
Soon, the Home Ministry issued guidelines to stem the panic and confusion, specifying that all commercial and private establishments would be shut, but with exceptions: “shops, including ration shops dealing with food, groceries, fruits and vegetables, dairy and milk booths, meat and fish, animal fodder”.
The exceptions also include the delivery of essential items through e-commerce; banks, insurance offices, ATMs, print and electronic media, telecommunication, internet services, broadcasting, and cable services. During the lockdown, petrol pumps, cold storage units, power generation, and transmission services and private security services will also be allowed to function.
The shutdown includes all transport services, which include air, rail, and road transport except for the transportation of essential goods and emergency services. Medical services, both private and public, including supportive manufacturing and distribution units, will remain functional.
As the country woke up the next day, migrant labourers started to flee cities to reach their native villages. With borders sealed and public transport reduced to a bare minimum, the migrant labourers took the arduous task of setting off on foot to their homes from Delhi to as far away as Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal.
As the states scrambled to respond to the unfolding humanitarian crisis, the Centre asked state governments and Union Territory administrations to effectively seal borders to stop the movement of migrant workers and also directed them to be put in mandatory 14-day quarantine for violating the lockdown.
Following the announcement, some states started arranging transport for the returning migrants while others issuing frantic calls asking them not to move because of the danger of the infection spreading. The Centre asked states to utilise the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) to provide food and shelter to the returning migrants.
Moreover, atleast 10 migrant labourers have lost their lives so far in the course of their desperate efforts to return home since the lockdown was announced. While 38-year-old Ranveer Singh collapsed due to exhaustion and died of a heart attack on Saturday in Agra, well over 100 km still to reach Badfara village in Madhya Pradesh, five people, including a woman and a child, died after a speeding truck ran over them on the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal (KMP) Expressway in Gurgaon.
On Saturday, four migrant labourers were crushed to death and three others injured when a speeding truck ran over them at Bharol village in Virar on Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway early on Saturday. Police said the men, who were headed to their native villages in Rajasthan, were walking back to Vasai after they were stopped and turned back from Bhillad on the Maharashtra-Gujarat border when the vehicle hit them from behind.
Two days into the national lockdown, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman unveiled a Rs 1.70 lakh crore Gareeb Kalyan Yojana package that aims to provide, for the next three months, free food to the “poorest of the poor”, some income support to farmers and unorganised sector workers, a Rs 50-lakh medical insurance cover for health care staff and a Rs 500-transfer to women Jan Dhan account holders.\
The government will also provide free of cost 1 kg of pulses per family of their preferred choice (tur, urad, chana), for the next three months. Free gas cylinders will be provided to 8 crore poor families registered under Ujjwala for the next three months. Daily wage under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is being raised from Rs 182 per day to Rs 202 per day with effect from April 1.
The migrant crisis issue reached the Supreme Court after two petitions were filed regarding the hardships faced by the labourers. Observing that “panic will destroy more lives than the virus”, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to provide counselling to migrants and rope in community leaders of all faiths to calm them down.
The Supreme Court also asked the Centre to set up a portal within 24 hours for the dissemination of real-time information on the coronavirus pandemic to counter the panic being spread through fake news.
Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, who is hearing the matter via video conference, told the Centre to ensure that migrants moved to shelter homes were provided food, nourishment, and medical aid.
Amid the lockdown, videos of policemen thrashing violators went viral on social media, triggering widespread outrage. A number of video clips, most of them from Punjab, many of which seemingly shot by policemen themselves, have swamped Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp.
One clip shows an SHO moving about in a black Scorpio car with a Mohali registration number, directing policemen to beat up persons on the streets with lathis. The persons on the receiving end are seen begging police to spare them as the latter land several blows on their legs and arms.
In another video clip, a differently-abled person riding pillion on a bike is stopped and made to rub his nose on the road. The man’s companion can be heard pleading but to no avail.
Moreover, in several places on Sunday and Monday, migrant workers traveling to their home states, or their belongings, were sprayed with a disinfectant, apparently to sanitise them. Workers were sprayed in Bareilly of Uttar Pradesh. The chemical in the spray was a sodium hypochlorite solution. Sodium hypochlorite is commonly used as a bleaching agent, and also to sanitise swimming pools. The Bareilly district administration has initiated an investigation into the matter.
The video showed around 40 migrant workers sitting on the roadside in full clothes, including women, while water jets were showered on them through fire tenders by men in white protective kit. In the video, one of the officials is heard asking the migrants to keep their eyes shut.
The situation took a violent turn in Surat last week when police tried to stop about 500 textile factory workers — mostly migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. The migrant workers, mostly employed in the power loom factories and dyeing and printing units of Surat, had left their rented rooms in Pandesara area and were walking towards the National Highway, about 20 km away.
When police stopped them near the Sachin area, about 2 km from Pandesara, some of the workers reportedly started pelting stones. While nobody was injured, some police vehicles were damaged. Around 11.30 pm, police first resorted to a lathicharge and then fired 30 teargas shells, pushing them back to Pandesara. Ninety-six workers were arrested for rioting; they were released on bail on Monday.
To stabilise the financial markets hit by the coronavirus lockdown, the Reserve Bank of India announced a three-month moratorium on loan repayments and slashed its main policy rate by a larger-than-expected 75 basis points and mandatory cash reserve ratio (CRR) of banks by 100 basis points.
In another move, the RBI cut the CRR — the portion of net time and demand liabilities or deposits to be kept with the RBI as a statutory reserve — by 100 basis points to 3 per cent. This will release an estimated Rs 137,000 crore into the banking system, thus augmenting the lendable resources of the banks.
Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?
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