India PM Narendra Modi urges citizens to light candles during coronavirus crisis

"Social distancing norms must not be violated at this time." said Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"Social distancing norms must not be violated at this time." said Prime Minister Narendra Modi.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked citizens to light candles on Sunday evening (April 5) to "challenge the darkness" of the coronavirus crisis in a video message to the nation as India entered its ninth day of a three week long country-wide lockdown.

"During this time all of you have shown great discipline and helpfulness and that is a great credit to you," Mr Modi said on Friday. "Social distancing norms must not be violated at this time."

India is expected to remain under complete lockdown until mid-April in a bid to stop the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak that's infected 2,543 people with deaths climbing to 72, according to John Hopkins University data.

With 0.5 hospital beds for every 1,000 people compared to 4.3 for China, the south Asian nation is betting on stringently-imposed social distancing to contain the outbreak.

Yet, with barely 48,000 tests conducted in a nation of 1.3 billion people - and the Ministry of Health's confirmation that India is utilising less than 40 per cent of its available testing capacity - virology experts say the true rate of infection in the country could be much higher.

As part of its preparations to exit the lockdown, Mr Modi has asked heads of 29 Indian states and territories on Thursday to formulate staggered plan, according to a government statement.