India’s 21-day lockdown is set to end next week but several state leaders have called for an extension or only a partial lifting of restrictions, saying this is the only way to avoid a coronavirus epidemic that will be difficult to tackle.
The country has so far escaped a big surge in cases after Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked 1.3bn people to stay indoors in the world’s biggest lockdown last month that authorities have enforced tightly.
But shuttering down the $2.9tn economy has left millions of people without work and forced those who live on daily wages to flee to their homes in the countryside for food and shelter.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao whose state has been hit by a rash of cases tied to a religious gathering in Delhi said the country could take the hit to the economy and that it was more important to save lives.
“I am for the lockdown of the country further more after April 15. Because, we can recover from the economic problem. But, we cannot get back lives,” Rao told reporters.
l Modi, who has faced criticism for ordering the lockdown with barely four hours’ notice is due to make a decision this week about whether to extend it.
The leaders of Assam and Chhattigarh said they would like to keep the state borders closed or allow only restricted entry while they dealt with the infections.
“As and when the lockdown is withdrawn, we have to regulate those wanting to come to Assam,” said Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan also indicated that the lockdown should be extended.
“The lives of people are more important, a decision will taken after assessment of the situation,” he said.
“We will bear the pain of lockdown and also take care of the economy later but if the people die, then we cannot bring their lives back,” he said.
Chouhan also said that looking at the present situation in Bhopal and Indore, “we need to stay more alert and take precautions”.
“And if required it (lockdown) will be extended. The lives of people are of utmost importance to me.
However, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has called for a phased withdrawal of the lockdown.
“After the video conference with PM, I have constituted two task forces as life is important,” he tweeted.
“We have set up a task force to see the lockdown issue which should be exited in a phased manner.”
A group of federal ministers yesterday met at Defence minister Rajnath Singh’s residence where the issue of post-shutdown scenario came up but no decision was taken on when to end it, sources said.
The government has to decide between loss of livelihood and loss of life.
However, a decision will come after Modi’s meeting with floor leaders and chief ministers where a common exit plan is to be discussed.
The prime minister is believed to have told chief ministers in his last conference that it is a ‘long-drawn battle.’
Government sources said the situation got more complicated after the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi led to a steep rise in coronavirus infections.
Meanwhile, in Thiruvananthapuram Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said mobile recharge shops, automobile workshops and spare parts shops will be partially reopened.
“The government has also decided to give permission to electricians and those repairing air conditioners to restart business.”
Asked about the demand to reopen barber shops, he said, “we will look into it.”
l A legislator in Assam was arrested yesterday for “controversial comments about the situations of quarantine facilities and hospitals for coronavirus patients,” in the state, police said. All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) legislator Aminul Islam allegedly said the conditions in the quarantine facilities were “worse than in detention centres for the people”.
The legislator, known for incendiary remarks in the past too, also had earlier accused the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Assam of “conspiring against Muslims”.
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