India on Wednesday went into a full 21-day lockdown in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus amid unprecedented nationwide restrictions that saw anxious people making a beeline for grocery stores and hundreds being detained by police for violating prohibitory orders.
Underscoring the enormity of the health challenge before the country that led to imposing the lockdown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said winning the war against coronavirus will take 21 days as opposed to the 18 days taken to win the epic war of Mahabharata.
The lockdown came into effect from midnight.
Modi was addressing the people of his parliamentary constituency in Varanasi through a video link.
In his second national broadcast in a week on Tuesday night, Modi made a fervent appeal to the countrymen not to cross the 'lakshman rekha' of their homes in the next three weeks. India's population is an estimated 1.3 billion.
The number of coronavirus cases on Wednesday touched 606 of which 43 were cured or discharged, a union health ministry official said, adding the death toll stood at 10. The toll, however, did not take into account one death each reported on Wednesday by state officials in Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh.
The number of deaths around the world from the novel coronavirus cases is stated to have crossed 19,000 and more than 427,940 declared cases were reported to have been registered in 181 countries and territories since the epidemic first emerged in China in December.
An official said the Ministry of Home Affairs is monitoring the lockdown from a control room in Delhi.
According to reports from states, roads wore a deserted look but people resorted to panic buying at several markets in violation of the advice for social distancing.
Long queues outside grocery stores, inflated prices, difficulty in getting important items -- these were some of the problems encountered by people in the National Capital Region (NCR).
Despite authorities asking people not to step out and assuring that essential supplies will not be affected, people rushed out to stock daily provisions.Many said they have been forced to step out as home deliveries have almost stopped.
"We don't want to take a risk by not storing rations. As several people are coming out of their houses to buy groceries and other essential items, I have also come to buy the same," said Anand Sharma, a resident of Kaushik Enclave in North Delhi's Burari.
However, at many places including Lajpat Nagar people kept a distance of one metre while standing in queue, keeping in the mind the importance of social distancing in the current situation. Shopowners too were taking precautions like restricting access to customers.
Union minister Prakash Javadeka said there was no need for people to panic as shops selling essentials and medicines will remain open throughout the lockdown period.
He also said sufficient legal provisions awere vailable to deal with black marketeers and hoarders.
Addressing the media about the decisions taken by the Union Cabinet, he said the Centre and the state governments are working together to effectively implement the lockdown and ensure people do not suffer.
It was a low-key Ugadi celebrations in Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh with people mostly staying indoors. Ugadi is a festival marking New Year's Day for Hindus.
Maharashtra also witnessed a subdued celebration of Gudi Padwa, which marks the beginning of the New Year in the state.
In Uttar Pradesh, the nine-day Navratra festival also began on a subdued note with many people preferring to perform the rituals from their homes by sending names and other details to the priest to do the puja on their behalf.
Acharya Suresh Mani Shastri, the priest of Gokhale marg temple, said regular devotees sent their details on phone to do the puja for them.
Police across all states also kept a strict vigil on violators of prohibitory orders.
In the national capital, over 180 cases were registered and 5,103 people detained for violations of government order during the lockdown, police said.
According to data shared by the Delhi Police, 183 cases were registered under section 188 (for disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) of the Indian Penal Code till 5 pm.
A total of 5,103 persons have been detained under section 65 (persons bound to comply with reasonable directions of Police officer) and 956 vehicles have been impounded under section 66 of the Delhi Police Act, they stated.
Over 350 people were detained in Gujarat for violating the lockdown in the last 24 hours, a senior official said.
Those detained included people who violated home quarantine norms, director general of police Shivanand Jha told reporters in Ahmedabad.
In Uttar Pradesh, officials said Police have registered 1,788 FIRs and booked 5,592 people for violating the lockdown norms.
The Centre also asked the state governments to resolve immediately the problems being faced by the e-commerce sector in delivering essential goods.
E-commerce and home delivery come under essential services and are exempt from the lockdown rules.
"However, there are reports of disruptions faced by e-commerce players. We have taken up with the state governments and local administration. Things will fall in place," Consumer Affairs Secretary Pawan Agarwal told PTI.
Amid reports of panic purchase of essential commodities, the Union Home Ministry asked state governments to check the spread of rumours about shortage of food items.
In a communication to chief secretaries and DGPs of all states, the ministry asked them to take action to allay apprehensions and maintain peace and tranquillity, and inform people about the availability of food, medicine and other essential commodities.
Despite a complete ban on large gatherings, people in some parts of Kolkata were seen jostling in markets to buy essential commodities for the next few days.
People were also seen queuing outside gas agencies to buy additional LPG cylinders.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said authorities will ensure essential services during the lockdown period and requested people not to panic.
"We will issue e-passes to vegetable-sellers, grocers among others to ensure essential supplies during the lockdown," Kejriwal said at a joint press conference with Lt Governor Anil Baijal, amid reports of alleged harassment of vegetable sellers by the police.
"We will ensure strict implementation of lockdown in Delhi," Baijal said.
Union Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said the government is monitoring the availability of essential commodities in the market.
Paswan warned manufacturers and traders against profiteering during the lockdown period.
The Centre is also in touch with the state governments to ensure there is no shortage of essential commodities, he said.
"In view of situation emerging from the threat of #Covid19India, the government is keeping an eye on availability of all essential commodities in the market," Paswan tweeted.
"I appeal to all manufacturers and traders to avoid profiteering in this situation," he said.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat lent weight to the prime minister's appeal for social distancing, saying it is important in the battle against coronavirus, and asked the swayamsevaks to resolve to fight the pandemic and lead by example by following social discipline.
Bhagwat was addressing the swayamsevaks on the occasion of 'Varsh Pratipada', or the Hindu New Year, by live streaming his speech on the RSS's website.