Extreme measure intended to avert catastrophe in country with poor healthcare services
India has mounted the largest attempted lockdown yet in the coronavirus crisis, ordering 1.3 billion people to stay at home from midnight for three weeks to prevent a public health disaster.
In a televised address on Tuesday night, the prime minister, Narendra Modi, announced that for the next 21 days, almost one fifth of the worlds population should forget what going out means.
From 12 midnight today, the entire country will go under a complete lockdown to save India and for every Indian, there will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes, said Modi. Therefore, I request you to remain wherever you are in this country.
He later tweeted that essential commodities, medicines etc would be available, although he did not explain if Indians would still be allowed to leave their homes to shop for essentials. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO NEED TO PANIC, he wrote.
So far India has had a relatively low number of coronavirus cases, with 469 infections and 10 deaths so far, and the government had already introduced stringent measures to try to halt local transmission in a country where millions live in densely populated conditions with terrible sanitation and limited healthcare access.
There are currently only 40,000 ventilators in India, one isolation bed per 84,000 people and one doctor per 11,600 Indians. More than 1.8 million people across the country are being monitored because they have shown symptoms of the illness, travelled from abroad or been exposed to confirmed cases.
It is feared that the low infection figures are linked to a lack of testing, with only around 17,000 tests carried out so far. The virus has now spread to almost all states in India, with the highest number of cases in Maharashtra, where the city of Mumbai is located, and the southern state of Kerala. There are 41 foreigners among the infected.
In his speech, Modi said that the government and experts had spent the past two months studying coronavirus outbreaks in other countries and had concluded that forcible social distancing via a lockdown was the only solution to prevent it taking hold in India.
He added: If we are not able to manage this pandemic in the next 21 days, the country and your family will be set back by 21 years. If we are not able to manage the next 21 days, then many families will be destroyed forever.