New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced the extension of the three-week nationwide lockdown for another 19 days till May 3 to battle the coronavirus pandemic but indicated easing some curbs after April 20 in areas which are not hotspots to allow some “select necessary activities”.
As his government seeks to balance containment measures to control the coronavirus spread with demands for phased reopening of the economy, the Prime Minister acknowledged that the lockdown has come at a huge economic cost and also inflicted pain on the people, especially the poor, calling them “disciplined soldiers”.
Modi, however, asserted that India has chosen the correct path, and managed to avert to a large extent the damage caused by the pandemic in many countries.
Hours after Modi’s announcement in a televised address to the nation on the last day of the lockdown, a large number of migrant workers rendered jobless came out on road in Mumbai demanding transport arrangements to return to their native places.
According to a police official, the daily wage earners, numbering around 1,000, assembled at the suburban Bandra (West) bus depot near the railway station and squatted on the road for nearly two hours from 3 pm. Most of them hailed from West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
Police had to resort to a mild cane charge to disperse the crowd.
Hundreds of migrant workers also took to the streets of Mumbra town in neighbouring Thane district and also in Surat in Gujarat demanding they be sent to their hometowns.
In his fourth address to the nation in the last one month on the coronavirus pandemic, Modi also announced that extensive guidelines for the second phase of the lockdown will be issued on Wednesday, declaring that his biggest priority is to save lives and minimise the hardships being faced by daily wagers and farmers.
According to Punjab special chief secretary K B S Sidhu, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba will hold a video conference with all the Chief Ministers and top officials of all the state governments on Wednesday at 9.30 am. The details of the extended lockdown shall become known during and after this meeting, he said.
The Prime Minister noted that most of the state governments, experts and other stakeholders recommended the extension of the lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
During his 25-minute address, Modi also asked people to follow ‘Saptapadi’ (seven steps) in the coming days to help the government in its fight against coronavirus. The seven steps included taking care of the elderly people, maintaining social distancing and helping the poor.
The Prime Minister said that just a thought of how much harm could have been caused to the country if his government had not followed a “holistic and integrated” approach gave him “goose bumps”.
Virtually putting the onus on the people and the local governments for the success of the extended lockdown, the Prime Minister called the days up to April 20 an ‘agni pariksha’ (trial by fire).