India’s Leader Declares Nationwide Lockdown

Date: Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Source: The Wall Street Journal

‘I appeal with folded hands, don’t come out of your homes,’ Prime Minister Narendra Modi says in televised address

NEW DELHI—Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered all nonessential government offices and private businesses to shut down and all Indians to remain at home for three weeks as the world’s largest democracy ramps up efforts to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

India, a country of 1.3 billion, has 519 confirmed cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and 10 deaths as of Tuesday, according to data from the federal Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

In a televised address to the nation, Mr. Modi also announced the government would allocate 150 billion rupees ($2 billion) to set up health-care infrastructure such as isolation wards and to buy ventilators, testing kits and other necessary equipment.

“I appeal with folded hands, don’t come out of your homes during the lockdown,” Mr. Modi said in the address.

The lockdown will extend at least until April 14.

India has recently seen a sharp increase in Covid-19 cases and the government has scrambled to stay ahead of the spread. On Sunday, the government ordered a one-day lockdown of country and announced that all long-distance train service would be suspended across the country. All domestic and most international flights will also be suspended.

Schools in some cities had begun closing earlier, as well.

The country is one of several large developing nations that are somewhat off the main thoroughfares of global trade and transportation, which seemed to have delayed arrival of the virus. Foreign tourists and Indians returning from abroad accounted for the bulk of the cases until last week, when officials began to acknowledge that the virus had started to spread among the domestic population.

India is also for the first time moving to allow private companies to provide testing for the coronavirus, after confining all testing to government labs. That, and the country’s tight restrictions on who was tested, had resulted in some of the lowest testing rates of any country.

Mr. Modi said essential services, grocery stores and banks offering limited services would remain open.

The prime minister underscored how some of the world’s leading economies have strained to contain the pandemic, despite their robust health-care systems, so it was imperative to take lessons from them.

“Social distancing seems to be the only option to combat coronavirus. There is no other way to be safe,” Mr. Modi said.

Yet achieving the sort of distancing that countries like Italy and China have maintained will be challenging for India, many of whose citizens live in tightly packed slums in megacities such as Mumbai and Delhi. Many of the country’s poorest earn the money they need to buy food the day they eat it.

Mr. Modi’s announcement of the lockdown led to panic buying of groceries and medicines in several parts of the country.

The Indian prime minister said in a tweet the federal and provincial governments would ensure availability of essential commodities.

To mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic, the federal government is working on an economic package that will be announced soon, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in a televised news conference Tuesday.

Most of the state governments in India have drawn up plans to provide free or subsidized food to millions of poor beneficiaries, as well as providing advance pensions payments and financial support to the poor for several months.

“We are front-loading our expenditure…to ensure people have sufficient money during this tough time,” Thomas Issac, finance minister of the southern state of Kerela, told The Wall Street Journal.

The federal government has also asked states to dole out cash incentives to around 35,000 workers in the construction industry who might be rendered jobless or have to stay at home due to the lockdown.

 

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