NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said the 21-day national lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus was bound to cause disruptions but the choice was stark as social distancing and isolation were the only and best means to ensure the disease did not extract an incalculable cost.
In a video interaction with residents of Varanasi, the PM, in his first comments after he announced a lockdown, said even in a normal situation, there was the possibility of inconveniences like water/electricity shortages and missing service providers, and to assume that a crisis of the magnitude that coronavirus presented would not create problems was akin to defrauding ourselves.
“To think there will be no difficulties will be to delude oneself. The Centre and state governments are trying hard to help. Still, I do agree that it is important to question the arrangements. But we should also pause for a moment to ask ourselves whether despite the problems, faced with a danger like coronavirus, do we have to win or not. The difficulties are going to be there for only 21 days but the damage that coronavirus will cause if it does not go away cannot be calculated ” the PM said.
Modi seemed to be trying to prepare people to put up with various inconveniences like irregular supplies of everyday items while arguing that the threat of wider or uncontrolled transmission of coronavirus was a danger that needed to be averted at all costs.
Seeking to drive home the point, Modi said the battle of Mahabharata was won in 18 days, and the one against coronavirus was going to take 21 days. “Our endeavour is to win it in 21 days. Whereas Lord Krishna was the general and the guide in Mahabharata, the battle against coronavirus will be led by 130 crore Indians,” he said, adding that the common man believed in taking the right step at the right time.
“On March 22, it was clearly seen how all citizens supported janata curfew and then at 5 pm, expressed gratitude to professionals fulfilling their duties in essential services,” he said.
However, the PM also cautioned that focusing exclusively on shortcomings and instances of dereliction on the part of a few would not be beneficial. “There can be thousands of reasons for spreading despair and some of those could be valid ones too. But we should remember that this nation is sustained by hope and trust,” he said as he lavished praise on doctors, nurses, paramedical personnel, police, government employees and the Air India crew.
Modi made a pointed reference to incidents of harassment faced by medical professionals and others such as airline crews, who were being asked to vacate residences or ostracised, and said such reports were deeply painful. He said states and police chiefs had been asked to take tough action to curb such instances of discrimination against people providing essential services.
“I appeal to all citizens, if you notice any incident where professionals, such as doctors and nurses are ill-treated, then you should take an initiative to make such people understand that they are wrong,” Modi said in response to a doctor, who cited incidents where medical staff was asked to vacate premises by their landlords.
The PM said he had told the home ministry and state DGPs to take strict action against those who were not supporting or not cooperating with doctors, nurses and other professionals.
“These days, people in hospitals are working for around 18 hours per day. Professionals in the healthcare sector are not getting more than 2-3 hours to sleep. Civil society people are working day in, day out to help poor. We should salute such people who are serving society in this critical hour,” Modi said, adding that those not cooperating with such professionals would have to face the consequences.
He said healthcare professionals “working in white uniforms in hospitals were like god for us today as they were saving people” from the disease. “They are saving us by risking their own lives,” he added.
Responding to the question of a textile merchant, Akhilesh Khemka, about the sufferings of the poor and the roofless, the PM urged better off sections to offer food to at least nine families for the next 21 days, which, he said, would be the best way to offer prayers to Ma Durga during the auspicious period of Navratra. Modi stressed that social distancing, which has resulted in hardships, was unavoidable as part of the “military strategy” deployed to fight the pandemic.
“However, we consider humans to be embodiments of divinity and compassion should be part of the larger strategy to defeat corona. Whoever has the capability, take the pledge to take care of nine families for 21 days, it will be a true ‘Navratri’. Due to the lockdown, animals are also facing trouble. I appeal to people to take care of animals around them too,” Modi said.
The PM started the interaction expressing grief over terror attack in a Gurdwara in Kabul where several people are said to be killed.
He said that as MP of Varanasi, he should have been among the people of the city in times like these but was not able to do so due to engagements in Delhi. “Despite being busy here, I’ve been taking regular updates about Varanasi from my colleagues,” Modi said, adding that Kashi could be the torchbearer in the fight against Covid-19.
The PM once again highlighted how some people were still not sensitive towards the coronavirus scare. “At times, people don’t pay attention to things which are important. The same is happening in India. I request people to understand facts and not believe in rumours. Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor. It will not spare anyone just because they perform yoga or exercise daily,” he added.
Modi said one should not attempt to treat coronavirus infection on their own.
He also announced that the government had formed a help desk, in collaboration with WhatsApp, to seek correct information about coronavirus.
“If you have access to WhatsApp, you can use the number 9013151515 for the purpose,” Modi said, adding, “If you write ‘Namaste’ on this WhatsApp number, either in English or in Hindi, then you will get an immediate response.”