State minister says India set to extend nationwide lockdown to tackle coronavirus

Volunteers in in Ahmedabad speaking with a man on April 10, 2020, amid India's lockdown.
Volunteers in in Ahmedabad speaking with a man on April 10, 2020, amid India's lockdown.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - The chief minister of Delhi state said on Saturday (April 11) that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to extend a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus but the federal government did not confirm this decision. 

Mr Modi’s government said only that it was still considering states’ requests and that they mostly wanted a two-week extension to the 21-day lockdown, which is due to end on Tuesday. 

Mr Modi earlier held a video conference call with several state chief ministers to decide on the future course. 

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who attended the meeting, said Mr Modi had decided to extend the lockdown. 

"PM has taken (a) correct decision to extend (the) lockdown.  Today, India’s position is better than many developed countries because we started lockdown early. If it is stopped now, all gains would be lost," Mr Kejriwal said on Twitter, without giving a time frame. 

In a statement later, the federal government said Mr Modi had emphasised in the meeting that the coming weeks were critical to determine the impact of the steps taken until now to contain the virus. 

The government has not said when it would make a final decision on any lockdown extension. 

The number of coronavirus infections in India rose to 7,529 on Saturday, with the capital city New Delhi and financial hub Mumbai fast emerging as hotspots.

There have been 242 deaths. 

Some states like the western state of Maharashtra – the worst hit by the virus and home to Mumbai – and West Bengal in east where the city of Kolkata is located extended the lockdown until the end of the month following the meeting with Mr Modi. 

At least two other states had already independently extended the lockdown by Friday. 

Indian officials have said widespread virus infections could be disastrous in a country where millions live in slums and the health system is already overburdened. 

BROADER CONCERNS

Although several states back a nationwide lockdown extension, concerns have risen that the restrictions have put millions of poor people out of work and forced an exodus of migrant workers from cities to villages. 

The government said on Saturday said that operations of the marine fishing and the aquaculture industry will be exempted from the lockdown restrictions. 

Some 81 migrant workers were arrested in the western city of Surat after they started fires and threw stones in protests late on Friday evening, demanding to be allowed to go back to their home areas, police said.

"The workers are without work because of the lockdown, and are struggling to sustain themselves," one police official said.

Indian officials have said widespread virus infections could be disastrous in a country where millions live in slums and the health system is already overburdened.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, where the army has been deployed across the country to enforce social distancing measures, the government on Friday extended its nationwide lockdown by 11 days to April 25.

The number of confirmed cases there rose to 482, with 30 deaths.

Bangladesh’s Ministry of Public Administration said on Saturday that nobody would be allowed out of their homes from 6pm to 6am, adding that legal action will be taken against those who fail to comply with the orders.

The government has also ordered all shops except drugstores to be shut by 6pm.