Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced that the lockdown across the country will be extended till May 3 to fight the coronavirus pandemic, saying the measure has produced a significant outcome in containing the infection.
India may have paid a big economic price, but there can be no alternative to saving human lives, PM Modi said after announcing the lockdown. Suggestions from various stakeholders including states and people too had favoured extension of the lockdown.
In a nearly 25-minute televised address to the nation, Modi said implementation of the lockdown will be strictly ensured in its second phase and detailed guidelines will be brought out on Wednesday to ensure that outbreak does not spread to new areas.
The prime minister said some relaxation may be allowed in some areas and the scope of coronavirus testing will be expanded significantly.
"Till April 20, every town, every police station, every district, every state will be tested on how much they are adhering to the lockdown; how much the areas have protected themselves from coronavirus. It will be observed. Some necessary activities may be allowed in areas that will pass this litmus test," Modi said.
"Follow the rules of lockdown with full devotion till May 3, stay where you are, stay safe," the prime minister told citizens.
Modi said India has managed to contain the pandemic well compared to many developed countries due to its holistic approach in dealing with the crisis and sacrifices made by people of the country in the fight produced tangible results.
"If India would not have adopted a holistic approach, if an integrated approach was not initiated, India's situation would have been different (compared to many developed countries). It is clear from the experiences of the past few days that the path we have chosen is right," the prime minister said.
India, he said, received huge benefits from the 21-day lockdown in checking the pandemic, adding that the country has dealt with the situation better with "limited resources".
The lockdown that came into effect on March 25 was to expire at midnight on April 14.
The fight against COVID-19 will be made more stringent in next one week, he said, asserting that new hotspots will create new crises.
The drastic pan-India lockdown had shone the spotlight on the miseries of lakhs of migrant workers whose journeys on foot from several urban centres to their villages hundreds of kilometres away grabbed headlines for many days last month.
The catastrophic effect of the lockdown on the overall economy and livelihoods of migrant and daily wage workers triggered severe concerns following which a number of chief ministers in their video conference with Modi on Saturday sought some kind of relaxation for a number of sectors.
Late last month, the government announced a Rs 1.7 lakh crore package aimed at providing relief to those hit hard by the lockdown as well as an insurance cover for healthcare professionals handling virus infected people.
"People have gone through hardships to save India. I know how many difficulties you faced. I respectfully bow to the people of India for their sacrifice," PM Modi said. "You are fulfilling your duties like a disciplined soldier," Modi said, hailing the people for their support in stemming the spread of the virus.
PM also sought people's support in seven things including taking care of the elderly, maintaing social distance, using masks, helping the poor and respecting those in the frontline against coronavirus. There is adequate stock of medicines and ration, PM said.
Last mile tightening in Kerala
There will now be stricter universal lockdown till April 20, no matter the success of containment in certain areas. Even a state like Kerala that has managed to bring down the number of active cases to less than 15 in all districts except two (Kasaragod and Kannur) will also have to go for a last mile tightening.
Kerala has 10 districts in the 'orange zones', where there are less than 15 active cases and two districts in the 'green zone' (Kottayam and Idukki) where there are no active cases. The 'red zone' districts are Kasaragod and Kannur with 93 and 36 cases respectively.
If Kerala could improve on the situation, which now looks likely, most of the state barring the northernmost regions of Kasaragod and Kannur could enjoy a relaxed lockdown post April 20. There would not just the resumption of economic activities but even inter-district movement of public transport.
If stricter lockdown is what the Prime Minister had in mind for he next week, this could also mean that certain relaxations Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had announced on April 13 would have to be withheld.
It is also still not clear whether Kerala could continue with the relaxations already announced - like the opening of workshops, spare parts shops, mobile recharge shops and aircondition and fridge an fan repair shops - during the final intense seven-day period of the lockdown.
Most states had favoured the extension of the lockdown by at least two weeks beyong its earlier slated end on April 14. At least seven states - Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, West Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Telangana - have already announced extension of the lockdown till April 30.
Railways, airlines extend suspension of services
The Indian Railways has extended the suspension of its passenger services till May 3, senior officials said on Tuesday.
"We have taken the decision keeping in view the extended lockdown period. More updates will be available shortly," the official said. Earlier, all passenger services were cancelled till April 14 midnight.
The Civil Aviation Ministry said all international and domestic commercial passenger flights too will remain suspended till midnight of May 3.
With a record 51 fatalities within 24 hours, the death toll due to coronavirus jumped to 324 and the number of cases in the country climbed to 9,352 on Monday, an increase of 905 since Sunday evening, according to the Union Health Ministry. As many as 979 people have been cured and discharged, and one had migrated, it said.
(With inputs from PTI)