India announces coronavirus lockdown for its entire 1.3 BILLION population from midnight
India has today announced a ‘total lockdown’ for its 1.3billion people in the world’s largest stay-at-home order to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Prime minister Narendra Modi announced the ‘total ban on venturing out of your homes’ in a televised address today.
The 21-day lockdown is set to begin at midnight in a measure which Modi says is intended ‘to save India and every Indian’.
He said that if the country failed to manage the next 21 days, it would be set back 21 years.
After his speech, Modi urged Indians to avoid the panic-buying which many Western countries have witnessed, as a government order confirmed that food stores would remain open.
The measure means that more than 2.6billion people worldwide will be in lockdown from tomorrow morning – half of them in India.
India has so far reported 482 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and nine deaths.
Health experts have warned that a big jump could be imminent, which would overwhelm the country’s underfunded public health infrastructure.
Some researchers have warned that more than a million people in India could be infected with the coronavirus by mid-May.
‘India is today at such a stage, where our actions today will determine our ability to reduce the impact of this disaster,’ Modi said, citing health officals and experts including the WHO for his dire warnings.
Modi called the order a ‘total lockdown’ and did not address whether any service providers would be exempt.
But a government order published by Indian media indicated that food shops, banks and petrol stations would remain open.
Modi said that ‘all steps have been taken by central and state government to ensure supply of essential items.’
‘This is a curfew… We will have to pay economic cost of this, but to save every family member, this is the responsibility of everyone – the biggest priority,’ the prime minister added.
‘You must remember that you will invite a grave pandemic like coronavirus to your homes if you step out.
‘If these 21 days are not managed, the country and your family will go back 21 years… I am not saying this as your prime minister, I am saying it as your fellow citizen, family member.’
In a subsequent tweet, Modi urged people against the panic-buying which many Western countries have witnessed.
‘Essential commodities, medicines etc [will] be available. Centre and various state governments will work in close coordination to ensure this,’ he said.
On Monday, India confirmed two more deaths. One was a 54-year-old man with no history of foreign travel, suggesting the start of community transmission of the virus, officials said.
A raft of lockdown measures had already been brought in by individual states, including sealing borders and restricting movement to only essential services.
The government ordered commercial airlines to shut down domestic operations from midnight on Tuesday on top of a ban on international flights to try and contain the coronavirus. About 144million people traveled on domestic flights last year.
Rail travel has already been suspended after thousands of people, mostly migrant workers, swarmed train stations to go home as businesses shut down.
Before Modi’s announcement today, officials had warned that people were not obeying government warnings to stay indoors.
India’s government has invoked a British Raj-era epidemic act giving it sweeping powers to contain the disease.
Nepal has ordered all land border crossings with India and China shut until March 29 in order to keep the contagion at bay.
The Himalayan nation said thousands of people, most of them Nepali migrant workers, had crossed into Nepal in recent days from India, believing their homeland to be safer.
Nepal reported its second case of the coronavirus on Monday, a citizen who had recently returned from France.
Some of India’s poorest people have already voiced fears about how they will withstand drastic public health measures.
The economic standstill is a particularly acute problem in developing nations where large numbers of people live hand-to-mouth.
Some Indians living in Mumbai’s sprawling Dharavi slum said they supported the clampdown, but wanted government support.
Taxi driver Shaikh Bahaduresha, 31, lived on Mumbai’s streets for two months last year, but moved into a small apartment with his new wife after they married in December.
But he now has no more taxi customers, which means he cannot afford food beyond rice and lentils, and will not be able to pay his rent, due on Tuesday.
‘I have no savings. My wife and I will be on the street again,’ said Bahaduresha as he waited in vain for a cab owner who he said owed him a deposit.
‘The USA is a VIP country, you can block it for a month and it’s okay, but in India you have to take care of the poor.’