PM says situation like ‘social emergency’; Lockdown unlikely to end in one go as positive cases cross 5,600

New Delhi:  Dashing hopes of a complete exit from the ongoing lockdown in one go, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said the country is facing a “social emergency” like situation as well as serious economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which showed a sharp spike in the infections, taking the nationwide tally to over 5,600 with at least 181 deaths.

After an interaction with Modi via video conference, several political leaders said the lockdown might not be lifted completely after April 14 and they were told by the prime minister that the pre-corona and post-corona life won’t be the same.

“The situation in the country is akin to a social emergency…it has necessitated tough decisions and we must continue to remain vigilant,” the prime minister told the leaders, according to an official statement. He asserted that his government’s priority is to “save each and every life”.

“The present situation is an epoch changing event in mankind’s history and we must evolve to counter its impact,” Modi said.

A number of states also indicated extension of the lockdown, at least in the areas identified as hotspots of the deadly virus spread, while wearing masks or face cover was made mandatory in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Mumbai as also in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. Karnataka said restrictions can be lifted in unaffected areas and sale of liquor can be allowed after April 14 to help generate revenues to fight the crisis.

Delhi government decided to completely seal off 20 hotspots, while Uttar Pradesh will do the same for seriously affected areas across 15 districts, including some in Noida and Ghaziabad on the outskirts of the national capital. With curfew-like restrictions, no one will be allowed to step out of their homes in the sealed areas including for essential services, with the authorities promising doorstep delivery of essential goods including grocery and medicines. Only medical vehicles would be allowed in these areas.

In Rajasthan, the state government decided to open mandis in a phased manner after end of the 21-day nationwide lockdown, which entered its 15th day.

The government also issued an advisory against labelling of any community or area for spread of COVID-19, as also against disclosure of names or addresses of those affected by the virus or under quarantine. It also warned against targeting healthcare and sanitation workers or police.

In his daily briefing, Union Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said states have been asked to focus on surveillance and contact tracing as well as on building hospital infrastructure. “We working with a twin approach — focusing on social distancing and then implementing containment measures,” he said.

The Supreme Court also asked the government to issue directions for facilitating COVID-19 tests in government or private labs for free of cost. As per the latest update from the ICMR, more than 1.2 lakh tests have been conducted so far across the country.

In its evening update, the Health Ministry said the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country has risen to 5,274 and 149 have died. Earlier in the day, the Ministry had said the tally rose by 773 in 24 hours till Wednesday morning, the biggest increase in this time period.

However, a PTI tally of cases reported by states as on 9 PM showed 5,689 people having been tested positive so far and at least 181 deaths. More than 500 people have been cured and discharged.

New cases were reported from Maharashtra (including in Mumbai’s densely-populated Dharavi slums), Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Jammu & Kashmir, among other places. Ladakh’s Lok Sabha member Jamyang Tsering Namgyal said the virus spread has been successfully contained in the union territory, while Sikkim government said not a single case has been detected so far in the state.

Interacting with floor leaders of opposition and other parties in Parliament via video conference, Prime Minister Modi said states, district administrations and experts have suggested extension of the ongoing lockdown beyond April 14 to contain the spread of the virus. Modi told the leaders that the country is facing “serious economic challenges as a result of COVID-19, and the government is committed to overcoming them.”

After the meeting, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said around 80 per cent of political parties suggested extension of the lockdown. The leaders were told by the prime minister he is receiving requests for extending lockdown and will talk to chief ministers and experts before taking a decision in the nation’s best interest, Azad said.

Modi is scheduled to interact with all chief ministers on April 11.

“Prime Minister Modi made it clear that lockdown is not being lifted and also that the life pre-corona and post-corona will not be same,” Biju Janata Dal leader Pinaki Misra told PTI.

Separately, Uttarakhand and Goa joined several other states to favour extending the lockdown, while Punjab Government said it will take a call on April 10 on whether to extend the ongoing curfew in the state beyond April 14.

Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa told PTI his government is in favour of lifting the lockdown in districts which have remained free of the infection, subject to approval from the Centre. He also said the state intends to relax liquor sales, stopped since the 21-day lockdown was imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19, after April 14 in a bid to increase state revenues.

In the meantime, further adverse impact of the pandemic on economic activities was reported from various segments. Global financial giant Goldman Sachs said Indian economy might see a GDP growth of just 1.5 per cent in the current fiscal. Rupee plunged 70 paise to its all-time low of 76.34 against the US dollar.

Indian Railways, which was on its way till February to not just meet but surpass its freight loading target, will end 2019-20 with 15.7 million tonnes less than the previous financial year’s 1,212.56 million tonnes, official figures showed.

As business has dried up due to the pandemic with operations having been virtually shut down, earnings from freight loading have also plummeted — from Rs 1,25,354 crore in 2018-19 to Rs 1,23,225 crore in 2019-2020 fiscal, a loss of Rs 2,129 crore.

More than 14 lakh people have tested positive since the virus outbreak in China last December, while over 79,000 have lost lives. However, China reported no fresh case on Tuesday and the lockdown in its Wuhan city, where the first case was found, has been lifted completely.

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