New Delhi: The Centre is mulling extending the nationwide lockdown beyond April 14 to contain the spread of COVID-19 following requests from several states and experts, government sources said on Tuesday, as the total number of coronavirus cases in India crossed the 5,000 mark.
With only a week left for the 21-day nationwide lockdown to end, sources, however, did not indicate if a final decision has been taken on the extension, and Joint Secretary in the Union health ministry Lav Aggarwal said, "no decision on extending lockdown as yet (taken), please don't speculate."
India is under the lockdown since March 25, with only essential services exempted, to contain the spread of coronavirus. While a PTI tally based on figures reported by various states as on Tuesday showed more than 5,000 testing positive across the country and at least 145 deaths, the Union Health Ministry's evening update, however, showed 4,789 confirmed cases and 124 deaths.
According to an ILO report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis has the potential to push around 40 crore informal sector workers in India deeper into poverty, with the lockdown and other containment measures affecting jobs and earnings.
However, several chief ministers have favoured the extension of the lockdown as they feel that the country can recover from the adverse impact of the shutdown on its economy but it was necessary to save lives from the fast-spreading virus, which has killed more than 76,500 people globally and afflicted over 13.6 lakh across 183 countries.
"A lot of state governments as well as experts are requesting the Central Government to extend the lockdown. The Central government is thinking in this direction," a source said, a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked countrymen to be ready for a long battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, and exhorted people to not feel tired or defeated while expressing confidence that India will emerge victorious in the fight.
Chairing a meeting of the council of ministers through video conferencing on Monday, Modi had clearly indicated that the lifting of the lockdown in one go is very unlikely while discussing the modalities of lifting it.
Several chief ministers have also favoured the extension of the lockdown, and pitched for lifting of restrictions in a phased manner.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said his government will extend lockdown, if a need arises, while his counterpart in Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot said the state cannot withdraw the lockdown immediately, and it has to be done in a phased manner.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao on Monday appealed to Prime Minister Modi to extend the national lockdown imposed to contain COVID-19, saying it was essential to save lives.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) report released in Geneva on Tuesday said,"in India, with a share of almost 90 per cent of people working in the informal economy, about 400 million workers in the informal economy are at risk of falling deeper into poverty during the crisis.
"Current lockdown measures in India, which are at the high end of the University of Oxford's COVID-19 Government Response Stringency Index, have impacted these workers significantly, forcing many of them to return to rural areas," it said in its updated report.
Since there is no vaccine to fight COVID-19, the government has stressed that social distancing is the only way to check the spread of the virus. Lockdown is considered the best way to keep people indoors.
Inter-state travel by public transport, including trains and buses, is banned, and so is domestic and international air travel.