New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has extended a nationwide lockdown through May 3 as India steps up its fight to contain the spread of the coronavirus among its 1.3 billion people.
The government will evaluate every town, district and state until April 20 for adherence with the lockdown, Modi said in a televised address on Tuesday, hours before a 21-day lockdown imposed last month was set to end. Areas that are less likely to turn into a hotspot may be allowed to open up certain essential activities from April 20.
“We will have to keep a close and strict watch on the places which run the risk of becoming hotspots,” Modi said in his fourth national address since infections began ticking up sharply in mid-March. “The creation of new hotspots will further challenge our hard work and penance. Hence, let us extend the strictness and austerity in the fight against corona for the upcoming one week.”
The decision to extend the restrictions comes as the number of those infected by the virus has climbed despite most people staying at home over the past three weeks. Still, Modi said compared with some other countries India is in a “well-managed” position and the path of social distancing adopted in the world’s second-most populous nation is correct.
India has so far reported 10,541 infections and 358 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That compares with more than half a million cases and nearly 24,000 deaths in the U.S.
“Sustained lockdown with periodic relaxation extending over two months is necessary to break the chain of transmission, reduce surge in infection and prevent resurgence of the pandemic,” said Rajmohan Panda, additional professor at the Public Health Foundation of India. “With the extension, the country will get time to focus on containment of hotspots and strengthen district-wise surveillance efforts.”
Modi said that while from an economic point of view the measure looks costly right now, the aim to save lives was paramount. He said one of his top priorities is to reduce the difficulties being faced by those who earn a daily wage: The lockdown prompted tens of thousands of migrant workers to flee from cities to villages after they lost work, prompting fears of starvation.
The central and state governments are also working together to minimize the problems being faced by farmers as they harvest the winter crop, Modi said.
“Be compassionate toward the people who work with you in your business or industry,” Modi said. “Do not deprive them of their livelihood.”
Asia’s third-largest economy was on track to grow 5%, its weakest expansion in more than a decade in the fiscal year that ended in March. Now it’s looking at a further downturn.
“The economic impact looks set to be worse than we had expected earlier,” said Rahul Bajoria and Shreya Sodhani, economists at Barclays Bank Plc. “Despite being characterized as essential sectors, the negative impact of the shutdown measures on the mining, agriculture, manufacturing and utility sectors appears higher than we had expected.”
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Regions showing improvement in containing the virus spread up to April 20 may see some relaxation for essential activities, but that will also come with conditions, Modi said, noting the government will issue detailed guidelines on Wednesday.
India may be losing close to 400 billion rupees ($5.2 billion) daily due to the lockdown with an estimated loss amounting to as much as 8 trillion rupees during the past 21 days, Sangita Reddy, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said in a statement, adding close to 40 million jobs are at risk during the April to September period.
“The prime minister’s directions on graded opening will help start some production activity to ensure that as soon as lockdown opens, there are no shortages faced,” said Reddy.
India on Tuesday also extended the ban on all domestic and international scheduled flights as well as cancellation of passenger trains through May 3. As part of its lockdown and social distancing push India has asked people to stay indoors.
Over the last month it has gradually widened its testing norms even though the country’s testing rates are still some of the lowest in the world. It has also diverted existing medical infrastructure to fight the spread of the virus.