NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday ramped up the fight against coronavirus by announcing that the entire country was being placed under lockdown — he called it as good as curfew — for 21 days starting midnight in order to break the chain of Covid-19 transmission and save India from a massive outbreak that could overwhelm the healthcare system.
Saying there was no other way to save the country from coronavirus, the PM said nations were facing a growing challenge and even the health care systems of developed countries like the US and Italy were struggling to respond to the unprecedented situation resulting from the rapid global spread of Covid-19.
“At 12 midnight… listen carefully, at 12 midnight, all of India will be under total lockdown. This is being done keeping in mind the experiences of other nations. This is the only way to save India. Save you and your families. No one steps out of their house. No one steps out. All states, all districts, all mohallas, will be locked down. It is a curfew. It is much more than a janata curfew. It is tougher. It is a decisive fight. It will indeed come at an economic cost but every life is important,” the PM said in a televised address, his second on coronavirus in a week. Drawing what he called the “lakshman rekha” for people, Modi bluntly said, “Forget about venturing out. For the next 21 days, you have to do just one thing, stay put at home, stay put at home and stay put at home only.
You don’t have to take a single step beyond the ‘lakshman rekha’.” Modi acknowledged that the country would have a huge economic cost to pay, and that the poor would suffer the most. But he suggested it was time for the nation to choose its priorities and, clearly, saving people’s lives took precedence.
“Jaan hai to jahan hai (If there is life, there is the world)… We must strengthen our resolve at every step and also be restrained,” he said. He added, “Come what may, you have to observe social distancing. From the common man in villages to the Prime Minister, nobody should breach this lakshman rekha.”
As reports came in of panic buying after his speech, Modi tweeted, “By converging around shops, you are risking the spread of Covid-19. No panic buying please. Please stay indoors. I repeat— Centre and state governments will ensure all essentials are available.”
The 21-day lockdown is arguably the first measure taken by any country to deal with the threat and Modi, like his address on Thursday, minced no words in underlining the gravity of the challenge facing the country and even people, citing the opinion of WHO and public health experts that a 21-day lockdown could break the chain of transmission, and by pointing to the tragic experience of developed countries reeling under the global pandemic.
“Even the most capable nations have been rendered helpless. Not that they do not have resources or are not making efforts. But the virus is spreading so fast that despite efforts, these nations are facing a mounting challenge,” he said.
However, he suggested that India could still find a way out of the crisis by exercising social distancing. “India is at the stage where our actions will decide the extent to which we can mitigate the crisis. We have to renew our resolve. This is the moment to exercise restraint and maintain discipline. We will come out victorious if we maintained utmost restraint,” the PM said. “There is only way one way to effectively combat this disease. It is social distancing. That means we have to stay away from each other. Stay indoors. There is no other way to save yourselves, your families and friends from coronavirus,” he added. Modi said there were misconceptions that social distancing was only for patients.
“That is not correct. Social distancing is for everyone, for every person, including thePM.” The unprecedented step of placing the entire nation under lockdown comes days after more than 500 districts were put under such restrictions. There is a list of exempt services such as healthcare workers, media, sanitation staff and police that the PM mentioned, but he plainly suggested that implementation would be rigorous. “Treat your doorstep as your ‘lakshman rekha’ that you will not cross for the next three weeks,” he said.
Hinting at the lack of seriousness with which lockdowns and restrictions have been observed, the PM said, “The carelessness and wrong thinking of some people could endanger yourselves, your families, friends and finally the nation will be in a big trouble. If such carelessness continues, India will have to pay a heavy price of which is not even possible to estimate.” While the rules about how the lockdown was to be observed and exemptions were notified by the home ministry, crowds were seen at grocery and convenience stores.
The PM appealed to people to keep in mind the sacrifices being made by healthcare professionals, sanitation workers, media personnel engaged in reporting the situation without caring for their own safety and the police that was sometimes having to deal with unruly public. “I am appealing with folded hands, whereever you are, stay there. It will be for three weeks. I had said recently when I spoke to you that I am asking for a few weeks… To break the cycle, we will need 21 days. If we don’t control this, the country and your families will go back 21 years. Many families will be destroyed forever. I am speaking, not as a PM but as a member of your family. So forget what it is to step out,” PM said. He reminded people that the illness could be deceptive, and in the early stage of infection there was nothing to distinguish that coronavirus had struck.
“Many times a person is quite healthy. No evidence of illness is apparent. This is need to stay alert,” he said and held up a sign doing the rounds on social media which said no one should come out on the roads in Hindi, spelling out“Co-ro-na”. The PM pointed that the number of infected persons had climbed steeply. It had taken 67 days to reach 100,000 people, 11 days to add another lakh and the third lakh came in only four days. The experience of countries that beat back the threat was that citizens needed to remain indoors. “Follow the directives of the central and state governments 100%. We are not to step out of homes. Come what may, from the PM to villager. Only then we can save ourselves,” he said.
Modi said steps would be taken to ensure supply of essential materials and the problems of the poor would be attended to. “The highest priority will be given to repairing health facilities and working with WHO and Indian institutions. Efforts will be made to ensure we have ICUs, ventilators, beds, medical and paramedical staff.” He said that wittingly or unwittingly, rumours get around and asked people not to believe in them. He particularly asked people not to indulge in self-medication. “A 21 day lockdown is a long time but it is for all of you, for your safety, it is important that every Indian face this successfully.