In Brief

Coronavirus: 1.3 billion Indians placed into lockdown

21-day restriction imposed to tackle spread of virus

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has imposed a nationwide lockdown in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The restrictions came into force at midnight local time and will be enforced for 21 days, after India reported a sharp increase in Covid-19 cases in recent days.

“There will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes,” Modi said in a televised address. “The entire country will be in lockdown, total lockdown.

“To save India, to save its every citizen, you, your family... every street, every neighbourhood is being put under lockdown.”

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There have been 519 confirmed cases of coronavirus across India and 10 reported deaths. However, analysts say the figure may be so low because of a lack of testing.

Deutsche Welle reports that people displaying symptoms of the disease have been turned away from government run hospitals, even with referrals from private clinics. The virus has spread to almost all states in India, with the highest number of cases in Maharashtra and the southern state of Kerala. 

Healthcare facilities are limited in India, says The Guardian, with only 40,000 ventilators, one isolation bed per 84,000 people and one doctor per 11,600 Indians.

Despite Modi’s insistence that there is no need to panic, the lockdown has triggered frenzied scenes, with many Indians reverting to panic buying.

“I have never witnessed such a chaos in my life,” the owner of one store in the Shakarpur district of Delhi, told the Press Trust of India. “All our stocks, including rice, flour, bread, biscuits, edible oils, have been sold out.”

Rajini Vaidyanathan, South Asian correspondent for the BBC, writes: “The implications of a total lockdown in India are huge, not just economically, but socially.

“This is a nation where community is everything. Going to worship at a temple, mosque or church is an essential part of daily life for so many. This is a seismic cultural shift.”

CNN says that at the last count there were around 400 million people in India’s labour market. Of those, more than half were self-employed, and 121 million were casual workers, meaning they were only paid for the days they worked.

This makes the lockdown a frightening prospect for many. Ramesh Kumar, who comes from Banda district in Uttar Pradesh state, told the BBC: “I earn 600 rupees (£6.50) every day and I have five people to feed. We will run out of food in a few days.”

However, Modi insists the measure are necessary, warning that if India does not “handle these 21 days well, then our country... will go backwards by 21 years”.

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