Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced a complete lockdown of the entire country for 21 days in an unprecedented drastic measure to try halt the spread of coronavirus shortly after which the Centre said all road, rail and air services will remain suspended during this period.
COVID-19 has claimed 11 lives in the country with authorities reporting one death each in Delhi--the second in the national capital--and Maharashtra on Tuesday and over 500 persons being afflicted by the viral infection. Fears are also mounting that more could be hit as the global coronavirus toll inches towards 17,000.
In his second address to the nation in less than a week on the growing concerns over COVID-19, Modi said the lockdown will be in force from Tuesday midnight, as he announced a Central allocation of Rs 15,000 crore to strengthen the health infrastructure to tackle the disease.
Fears over the spread of the disease have already led the governments in the states and union territories to clamp a lockdown till March 31—the date till which road, rail and air services have been suspended. However, freight movement will continue to carry essential commodities across the country, officials said.
According to 6-page guidelines released by the Ministry of Home Affairs, fair price shops and those dealing with food, groceries, fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, fish and animal fodder will remain open.
The guidelines also stipulated that making false claim to get any relief during lockdown may result in imprisonment up to two years.
"To save India, to save every Indian, there will be a complete ban on people from stepping outside their houses from 12 midnight today," he said, and showed a poster saying corona means 'Koi Road Par Na Nikle' (No one should come out on roads).
"Lockdown is being imposed on every state, union territory, district, village, mohalla and street."
The lockdown will be like ‘curfew' and more stringent than the 'janta curfew', which was observed on Sunday where millions across the country stayed indoors.
Modi folded his hands a few times in an emotional gesture to emphasise his request to citizens to adhere to his call, saying it is applicable to everyone from the prime minister to a citizen in a village.
"If we don't handle these 21 days well, then our country, your family will go backwards by 21 years," he said, asserting that the tough measure is necessary for a decisive battle against the coronavirus outbreak.
"One step outside can make way for coronavirus into your house".
Acknowledging that the decision will have an economic cost, Modi said saving people's lives is of the paramount interest to his government.
He also made a vigorous push for enforcing social distancing as the only way to tackle the coronavirus amid incidents of people violating the lockdown conditions in several parts of the country.
Experts and the experience of countries fighting the deadly virus make it clear that the social distancing is the only way to combat the disease, he asserted.
“Social distancing not only for infected but for every citizen including the prime minister.”
“I have full faith that we will emerge victorious from this challenge, “ he said, as he asked people to take care of themselves and their family.
Addressing fears that there could be a shortage of essential commodities and medicines, the prime minister said there is absolutely no need to panic. “Centre and states will work together to ensure availability of essential commodities, medicines...”
Modi also urged people not to indulge in panic buying, saying that by converging around shops, they are risking the spread of COVID-19. The remarks come against the backdrop of people rushing to provision shops to make mass purchases.
In an interaction with senior journalists from the print media via video links earlier in the day, Modi said citizens need to be assured that the government is committed to countering the impact of COVID-19.
He also said it is imperative to keep the 'fighting spirit' of the people up to stop the pandemic in its march.
As 32 states and union territories imposed complete lockdown till March 31, the Centre asked them to clamp curfew wherever necessary in the wake of people defying lockdown orders .
Cases were booked against hundreds of people in different parts of the country including in Delhi for violating prohibitory orders.
In Hyderabad, police said it had to resort to mild caning against the violators.
With the lockdown hitting the Indian industry hard and causing job losses, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters an economic package to help tide over the crisis will be announced very soon.
Two states -- Punjab and Maharashtra -- and a Union Terrotory -- Puducherry -- have already declared curfew in their respective areas.
In Maharashtra, a 65-year-old coronavirus patient died in Mumbai, taking the death toll due to COVID-19 to three in the metropolis, according to state officials. The western state, with 107 cases, has accounted for the highest number of this viral infections followed by Kerala(91).
The man recently returned from the United Arab Emirates(UAE) to Ahmedabad. He later complained of fever, cough and difficulty in breathing, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said in a statement.
The patient was brought to the Kasturba Hospital in Mumbai on March 20 for treatment, but his health condition deteriorated further.
The man also had pre-existing ailments, including high blood pressure and severe diabetes, the statement said, adding he died late Monday evening.
According to the data updated by the Union Health ministry on Tuesday evening, the total number of COVID-19 cases rose to 519, including 470 active cases. The figure includes 41 foreign nationals.
The latest death in Mumbai has not been taken into account by the health ministry.
However, the ministry reported a second death in Delhi but did not give details.
The earlier nine deaths were recorded in Maharashtra (2), Bihar, Karnataka, Delhi, Gujarat, Punjab, West Bengal and Himachal Pradesh.
39 people have been cured/discharged/migrated, according to the official data.
Authorities have also taken a serious view of several people continuing to venture out despite the lockdown considering that the coming days and weeks are going to be extremely critical to contain the spread of the disease.
A top functionary of the central government called up some of the chief ministers and apprised them of the necessity of imposing the curfew if people continue to venture out of their homes.
The state governments and the union territory administrations have been advised to impose curfew wherever necessary as many people continue to go out of their homes despite the lockdown ordered to check the spread of the virus, a government official told PTI.
The state governments have been told that public gatherings could lead to escalation of the prevailing situation.
"Now, it is up to the state governments to take action as per the local situation and give necessary instructions to the district magistrates who have the powers to impose curfew," the official said.