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After Janata Curfew, India gets ready for long haul

Passenger trains, interstate buses and suburban and metro trains have been halted until March 31. State borders have been sealed. The number of districts under lockdown, initially fixed at 75 after a Centre-state videoconference earlier in the day, increased by late evening as more states announced closures.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Mar 23, 2020, 06.36 AM IST
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Coronavirus

COVID-19 CASES

Confirmed
207,615
Deaths
5,815
NEW DELHI: Large swathes of the country will be on lockdown from Monday amid alarm over Covid-19 cases rising to 396 on Sunday from 315 on Saturday — the biggest jump in a day — and the death toll going to seven from four. Delhi, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand will be shut until March 31 — and more states could follow. West Bengal’s lockdown will last until March 27 while UP announced a closure in 16 districts until March 25. Chhattisgarh and Bihar announced a shutdown in all urban areas until March 31.

Passenger trains, interstate buses and suburban and metro trains have been halted until March 31. State borders have been sealed. Globally, deaths from the coronavirus stand at more than 13,000 with over 300,000 infected.

In what was a practice drill for the shutdown, India observed a 7 am to 9 pm Janata Curfew on Sunday that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called for.

The number of districts under lockdown, initially fixed at 75 after a Centre-state videoconference earlier in the day, increased by late evening as more states announced closures. Some of these districts are in states that don’t have total shutdowns such as Karnataka, Gujarat, Haryana and Kerala. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had said no domestic flights would land in the capital but the Centre later overruled him on this.

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Services such as hospitals, telecom, medical shops, provision stores and establishments engaged in the manufacturing and distribution of essential commodities will be exempt along with skeletal transport services.

Prime Minister Modi asked people to be “prepared for a long battle” and said they should not step out of their homes in areas where a lockdown has been announced and, in other parts of the country, should only do so for essential tasks.

The closure is a key element of the country’s strategy to slow the spread of the disease — flattening the curve — and heading off community transmission in a country of 1.3 billion people.

States on Board
Getting the states on board has been a critical part of the campaign.

“The Centre does not have the power to announce a country-wide lockdown unless it invokes emergency powers,” a top government official told ET. “Hence, we advised states and got them on board to go for a lockdown immediately in the affected districts to stop movement of people. We cannot go down Italy’s way by delaying a lockdown for long as the number of cases can explode and our hospitals will not be able to take the load at a later stage. The period till March 31 is absolutely critical to flatten the curve.”

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Cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba and principal secretary to the Prime Minister, PK Mishra, held the video-conference with state chief secretaries on Sunday. The decision taken by Rajasthan on Saturday, the first state to go for a complete lockdown until March 31, was cited as the strategy that made the most sense.

“The international experience shows there is no other way out but a lockdown,” Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot told ET. “Cases are increasing and this won’t stop unless we stop people-to-people contact. Testing facilities are limited and lockdown is in public interest to save lives. Hence we were the first to do it.”

All passenger trains were stopped until March 31 for the same reason, given the instances of quarantined people boarding trains and migrant workers thronging railway stations to return to villages.

“This is a natural and logical extension of the Janata Curfew — these measures are temporary,” said Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the health ministry, said about the measures to be implemented from Monday.

“Lockdown is the most essential thing to break the chain of transmission,” said Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) director-general Balram Bhargava. States have been asked to designate hospitals for dedicated treatment of Covid-19 patients, Bhargava said.

The labour and corporate affairs ministries will issue instructions to ensure employees of private establishments get full pay. They have instructed the states to do the same.
(Catch all the Business News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on The Economic Times.)

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