India will remain under a lockdown until May 3, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Tuesday, with restrictions enforced even more strictly until April 20, when some of the curbs could be reviewed.
Detailed guidelines are expected on Wednesday after a meeting of the Union Cabinet. The guidelines are crucial, for they will dictate the sectors and the pace of opening up.
The three-week nationwide lockdown, announced on March 24, was to end on Tuesday. Following the PM’s speech, Indian Railways cancelled all passenger movement until May 3. Those who have bought tickets will be refunded.
Private airlines that had allowed passengers to book tickets for travel after April 14 will have to issue refunds. Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had said earlier this month that airlines could take bookings for domestic flights after April 14, but they would have to follow the protocol in place if the lockdown was extended.
Modi said India had performed better in countering Covid-19 than many other advanced and more prosperous nations of the world. “If the country had not taken a holistic, integrated approach and had not acted fast, it is frightening to imagine what it would have been like today,” he said. He attributed this to the discipline and patience of the Indian people.
However, an extension of the lockdown was needed for the general good, he said and asked the people to cooperate so that the virus could be defeated comprehensively. If India had the disease under control, he said, it was because it had been proactive in imposition restrictions.
The PM said the sooner areas were freed of the virus, the sooner they could look forward to being opened.
Migrant workers gather outside Bandra West Railway Station, in Mumbai, as they defy lockdown norms, demanding they be allowed to leave for their native places, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the extension of lockdown. Photo: KAMLESH PEDNEKAR
Till April 20, the bureaucracy — local and national — will be on test to see which districts were most successful in vanquishing the virus. “Then we can decide on relaxing the restrictions,” said the PM.
He said: “In the case of any positive development in any particular area or district, we can give a conditional concession from April 20. In the case of any violation, development of any new hotspots, those concessions will be rolled back in those areas.”
Asserting the need for a strict lockdown to ensure that Covid-19 did not spread to a single new area, he said citizens had persevered and confronted every difficulty to ensure that India was ahead in the fight against the virus. “The power of ‘We, The People Of India’, has been seen in the country during the lockdown.”
He also put out a seven-point charter for people to follow, which included social distancing, taking care of the elderly and the poor, protecting jobs and preventing attacks on doctors and other frontline Covid-19 workers.
The PM said social distancing and the lockdown had been immensely beneficial in the fight to control the rapid spread of the virus. “Yes, economically, we have paid a great price for it, but from the point of view of saving human lives, it has been a significant step,” he said.
The Opposition Congress was unimpressed by the PM’s 25-minute address. Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said, “The poor have been left to fend for themselves for 21+19 days, including practically soliciting food. There is money, there is food, but the government will not release either money or food. Cry, my beloved country,” he said on Twitter.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi released a video ahead of the PM’s speech. She said: “Whether in power or not, the Congress will help people fight against coronavirus spread.”