Underlining that “we have chosen the correct path” and “our country has greatly benefited from social distancing and lockdown”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced extension of the three-week lockdown by another 19 days until May 3, together with intensive containment measures at the hotspots.
In a televised address to the nation, the Prime Minister, while acknowledging “the problems you have faced — some for food, some for movement from place to place, and others for staying away from homes and families”, said there would be strict enforcement of the lockdown until April 20, after which there could be conditional relaxation in specific areas following assessment of the situation.
“Until 20th April, every town, every police station, every district, every state will be evaluated on how much the lockdown is being followed. The extent to which the region has protected itself from coronavirus will be noted,” Modi said.
“Areas that will succeed in this litmus test, which will not be in the hotspot category, and will have less likelihood to turn into a hotspot, may be allowed to open up select necessary activities from 20th April. However, keep in mind, this permission will be conditional, and the rules for going out will be very strict.
Permission will be withdrawn immediately if lockdown rules are broken, and spread of coronavirus risked,” he said.
The PM added that the government would issue guidelines Wednesday in this regard.
Hours after the Prime Minister’s address, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), in an order, said that guidelines for the fresh lockdown would remain the same as issued on March 24 and modified subsequently on multiple occasions.
It, however, left scope for relaxation, saying that these guidelines could be modified whenever it was found necessary to do so.
“Considering the fact that strict social distancing measures need to be implemented for a further period to contain the spread of COVID-19, the National Authority, in exercise of powers under Section 6 (2) (i) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, directs the Ministries/Departments of Government of India, State Governments and State Authorities to continue the same measures for social distancing up to 3rd May, 2020. In this regard the guidelines/orders issued by NEC shall continue to be applicable throughout the country. The Authority further directs NEC to issue modifications in the guidelines as necessary, keeping in view the need to contain the spread of COVID-19,” the NDMA order stated.
Tuning the response in dealing with the pandemic, the Prime Minister set out two broad metrics – no expansion to greener areas and no proliferation of hotspots in existing areas.
“We must not let coronavirus spread to new areas at any cost. A single new patient at even the smallest local level, should be a matter of concern for us. The tragic death of even a single patient from Coronavirus, should increase our concern even further,” was the first metric he highlighted.
He then followed it with a call to be “vigilant about hotspots”. “We will have to keep a close and strict watch on the places which run the risk of becoming hotspots. The creation of new hotspots will further challenge our hard work and penance,” he said.
He suggested strict enforcement of the lockdown till April 20 after which there could be graded relaxations in areas based on the epidemiological assessment – incidence of the outbreak and the intensity – for respective regions. He also said that the relaxation could be withdrawn later if any fresh case of COVID-19 is found in the area.
In his address, the Prime Minister did not mention any economic package or plan – states have been urging the Centre to take measures to tide over the economic gloom.
But he did underline that provision of “limited exemption” in identified areas after April 20 would be done “keeping in mind the livelihood of our poor brothers and sisters”.
“Those who earn daily, make ends meet with daily income, they are my family. One of my top-most priorities is to reduce the difficulties in their lives. The government has made every possible effort to help them through Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojna. Their interests have also been taken care of while making the new guidelines. These days, the harvesting of the Rabi crop is also in progress. The Central and State governments are working together to minimize the problems of the farmers,” he said.
The country, he said, has “ample reserves of medicines, food-ration and other essential goods; and supply chain constraints are continuously being removed”.
On relaxations during April 20-May 3, the Prime Minister indicated that the priority would be easing the hardships for the unorganized and daily wage earners, farm sector and essential services.
“We will issue a detailed guideline tomorrow. We are making attempts so that farmers, poor people are least affected. If we will have patience, we will defeat the coronavirus,” he said.
Until April 12, COVID-19 cases have been registered from at least 354 districts – this works out to be almost every second district of the country. The spread was around 284 districts a week ago and 211 districts a week before that. However, as on April 12, 228 of these 354 districts recorded less than 10 positive cases.
Strict compliance of could help health workers trace and test contacts to isolate potential suspect cases, and prevent the disease from spreading further in these areas.
The Prime Minister, who had a meeting with Chief Ministers last week over continuance of the lockdown that was to end Tuesday, asserted that it was India’s holistic and integrated approach that had helped the country to fare better than many other nations.
Echoing what he told the CMs – Jaan hai to jahan hai (there is a world only if there is life) – Modi said the economic costs are not as grave as losing lives. “From an economic only point of view, it undoubtedly looks costly right now, but measured against the lives of Indian citizens, there is no comparison itself. The path that India has taken within our limited resources has become a topic of discussion in the entire world today,” he said.
“Had India not adopted a holistic and integrated approach, taking quick and decisive action, the situation would have been completely different,” he said.
He praised the citizens for the “discipline and cooperation” they have extended to avert damage due to the virus.
He acknowledged the work done by the state governments and local bodies in tackling the outbreak and said that there has been a consensus between the state governments and the Centre on extending the lockdown.
Acknowledging the hardships faced by the public, Modi said that it was also reflective of the will of “we, the people of India” to face the adversity posed by this pandemic. He said the government has been able to ramp up its health infrastructure to deal with the unfolding pandemic.