Coronavirus pandemic

India gears up for lockdown on Sunday

Health workers checking the temperature of devotees at the entrance of the Durgiana Temple in Amritsar in the northern Indian state of Punjab on Wednesday. The state, which saw India's fourth coronavirus fatality yesterday, has suspended public trans
Health workers checking the temperature of devotees at the entrance of the Durgiana Temple in Amritsar in the northern Indian state of Punjab on Wednesday. The state, which saw India's fourth coronavirus fatality yesterday, has suspended public transport and capped the size of gatherings. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Modi announces one-day curfew; country to ban incoming international flights for a week

India is all set to go into lockdown on Sunday with a one-day nationwide curfew coupled with a week-long ban on all incoming international flights as Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday sought his countrymen's cooperation to battle the coronavirus.

Mr Modi, in his first address to the nation since India registered its first coronavirus case on Jan 30, announced the one-day curfew stretching from 7am to 9pm in a televised speech yesterday.

The announcement was preceded by a government advisory banning all international flights to India for a week starting on Sunday.

"During this curfew, we shall neither leave our homes nor get onto the streets or roam about our localities," Mr Modi said in a speech appealing to Indians to exercise restraint and stay at home as much as possible.

"This people's curfew will, in a way, be a litmus test for us, for our nation. This is also the time to see and test how prepared India is for fighting off a... global pandemic."

In his 30-minute speech, Mr Modi also asked people to stand on balconies and doorways at 5pm on Sunday, and clap their hands or ring doorbells for five minutes, to salute "protectors of the nation" - those working in essential services such as doctors, nurses, airline staff, government officials, police personnel, journalists and home delivery workers.

The Prime Minister also announced the setting up of an Economic Response Task Force to gauge the impact of the pandemic on the economy and guide the economy through tough times.

He also urged Indians not to panic-buy as there is a sufficient supply of essential items.

"I would like to reassure all Indians that all steps necessary are being taken to ensure there is no shortage of essential items like milk, groceries and medicines," he said.

The Prime Minister's speech was preceded by an advisory that asked senior citizens above the age of 65 to stay at home.

Parents have been told to keep children under the age of 10 at home, the government said yesterday in the latest of many guidelines it has issued.

The government has also asked private companies to let employees work from home, with the exception of emergency and essential service providers, while 50 per cent of government officials have been asked to come in on alternate days and at staggered timings.

India has reported at least 173 cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and four fatalities.

The South Asian country is seen to be doing well, with the number of cases still low compared with its 1.3 billion population, although questions have been raised over whether there are many more cases and whether enough testing has been done for the virus.

India began restricting the movement of people into the country last week.

It started with temperature screening of travellers arriving from a handful of countries, including Singapore, before extending the screening to all international arrivals on March 3.

The government then banned flights from the European Union, Turkey and the United Kingdom on Tuesday, followed by the Philippines, Malaysia and Afghanistan on Wednesday.

According to the government, those who have tested positive so far have a history of travel abroad or have been in contact with someone who has travelled abroad.

The Indian Council of Medical Research, a government body, has maintained that there is as yet no evidence of community transmission, meaning that the virus has not spread through the population.

The northern state of Punjab, which recorded India's fourth fatality yesterday - a 72-year-old man with a history of travel to Germany and transit through Italy - suspended public transport and restricted the size of any gatherings to under 20.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2020, with the headline 'India gears up for lockdown on Sunday'. Print Edition | Subscribe