Coronavirus: India suspends passenger train services until March 31, 14-hour curfew imposed

A deserted street is seen during a one-day curfew imposed in New Delhi, India, on March 22, 2020.
A deserted street is seen during a one-day curfew imposed in New Delhi, India, on March 22, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

MUMBAI (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) -  India has suspended passenger train services across the country until March 31 as the government tries to curb the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. 

The railways ministry said passenger rail will stop with immediate effect though freight services will continue, according to a statement on Sunday (March 22). 

India launched a 14-hour curfew on Sunday to limit the fast-spreading coronavirus epidemic in the country, where 315 people have so far been found to have contracted the disease.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an address to the nation last week, urged citizens to stay indoors from 7am to 9pm local time (9.30am to 11.30 pm Singapore time) - a move that he said would be a crucial test for a country to assess its abilities to fight the pandemic.

"Let us all be a part of this curfew, which will add tremendous strength to the fight against the Covid-19 menace," Mr Modi tweeted minutes before the curfew commenced. "The steps we take now will help in the times to come."

Health experts said India's cases have been growing at a rate seen during the early stages of the outbreak in other countries, which subsequently reported exponential increases in infections.

Several Indian states announced measures to curb the spread of coronavirus. Four cities in Mr Modi's home state of Gujarat have declared a complete shutdown until Wednesday.

The neighbouring desert state of Rajasthan ordered a shutdown until March 31, while eastern and central states suspended inter-state bus operations to prevent an exodus of daily wage earners from urban centres to villages.

State leaders urged citizens not to rush to villages and avoid crowding trains and buses to prevent the virus spread. Tensions have mounted, however, with angry labourers protesting at some bus stations against sudden closures of basic transport services.

Private events, such as weddings, and local elections were cancelled. The federal government was accelerating the production of masks and has allowed deodorant manufacturers to produce sanitisers.

Mr Modi has requested citizens to stand at balconies and near windows on Sunday evening to clap and ring bells to admire the emergency personnel and sanitation workers who are at the front line in the fight against the coronavirus.