New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to calm nerves and urged Indians to remain indoors as much as possible as he addressed the nation on how it could battle the coronavirus pandemic.
The prime minister, in a televised address to the nation, announced a ‘Janata Curfew’ from 7 am to 9 pm Sunday, 22 March, to stop the spread of coronavirus that has already claimed four lives in the country and infected at least 169 others.
“Under ‘Janata Curfew’ no one will go out of their houses. It will also prepare us for the forthcoming days,” said PM Modi, hinting that such isolation drives could be essential in future to stop the spread of COVID19.
Modi said the world is passing through a “grave” situation which is worse than any World War. According to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), India is still in phase 2 of disease transmission, which involves only local transmission.
The government, he said, will constitute a COVID-19 task force headed by the Union finance minister to handle the economic challenges arising from the spread of the virus and the resultant impact on various sectors of the economy.
Modi also stressed on the need to avoid panic buying and assured that the government was taking all steps to ensure that supply of essential commodities was not disrupted.
The Janata Curfew
The PM said people should not step out of their homes Sunday, except for those working in essential services like healthcare, security or media.
He added that the day would act as symbol of “our self-control” and the experience will prepare the country for coming challenges.
Modi also appealed to state governments and civil society organizations to ensure that people are made aware of the ‘Janata Curfew’.
He added that at 5 pm Sunday, state administrations will ring a siren that will signal people to come out to their doorsteps or windows to express gratitude to those who have been working in the frontlines during this health crisis.
“For the last two months, lakhs of people at airports, hospitals, cleaning staff, media and transport sector have been putting themselves at risk for others” he said.
“India is grateful to them, and citizens should express their gratitude to these people on Sunday.”
He appealed citizen to do this by clapping or ringing bells for five minutes at their doorsteps on March 22.
Push for social distancing
Prime Minister Modi aso urged people to practice social distancing.
Social distancing is the primary measure to prevent coronavirus infections as it stops the spread of airborne droplets that are released when infected people cough or sneeze.
“If anyone thinks we are fine and protected from the pandemic coronavirus, their thinking is incorrect. It’s very important to be vigilant and alert at this point of time,” he said, while detailing the background of the disease and its impact globally.
“There is no cure and no vaccine for this, till date. As per our analysis, in some countries the cases of infection have exploded after the first phase. Whereas the countries who took important decisions on time — such as isolating the citizens — the situation came under control.”
He emphasised that the “role of citizens is very important.” The first priority, the PM said, should be taking care of “ourselves”. “If we are healthy, everyone around us will be healthy.”
Modi also urged citizens not to overwhelm hospitals during this crisis.
“I appeal to citizens not to go to hospitals for routine checkups unless it is urgent. Instead, get advice over the phone from your family doctors,” he said.
He also added that people who have elective surgeries planned in the coming weeks should postpone it for at least a month.
Tackling economic difficulties
The COVID-19 task force will ensure that all steps to mitigate economic difficulties are effectively implemented, Modi said in his address.
Ratings agency Crisil, in a note Thursday, had said that India’s growth will be impacted through reduced demand for exports, given the slowdown in global growth and supply chain disruptions.
“The supply disruptions are expected to play out through non-availability of raw materials and intermediate inputs,” it said adding that the Indian economy is likely to face pressures on the consumption, production as well as investment sides if the pandemic is not contained.
Many economists have revised India’s growth forecast to less than 5 per cent for 2019-20 and to less than 5.5 per cent for 2020-21.
With additional inputs from Remya Nair.