PM hints at lockdown extension, says situation like 'social emergency'

Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacts with Parliament floor leaders to discuss Covid-19 pandemic and the government's efforts to contain it, via videoconferencing Photo: PTI
In an effort to shape a consensus on the ongoing nationwide lockdown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday told Parliament floor leaders that the situation in the country was akin to a “social emergency”, and indicated the curbs were likely to continue beyond April 14.

Interacting with them via videoconferencing, the PM said he would take a decision on extending the lockdown after a meeting with chief ministers on Saturday.

The number of coronavirus cases in the country crossed 5,000 on Wednesday, with 149 deaths, the data from the heath ministry said.

According to a government statement, the PM said “several state governments, district administrations, and experts had asked for an extension of the lockdown”.

Over the last week, Modi has spoken of a “staggered exit” and a “graded” lifting of the lockdown. Several state governments have also put forward their suggestions on graded lifting, including running special trains, and allowing some industrial activity.

There are concerns in several states, particularly those with bustling urban centres, like Maharashtra, that lifting the lockdown now could be counterproductive and any gains in controlling the spread might be lost. After the four-hour meeting, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said nearly 80 per cent of political leaders, including himself, suggested the PM that the lockdown should be extended.

The Uttar Pradesh government announced that it would seal coronavirus hotspots in 15 districts across the state from Wednesday midnight till April 14. UP Additional Chief Secretary Awanish Kumar Awasthi said 104 coronavirus hotspots had been identified across 81 police station areas in these districts. A ‘complete lockdown’ would be enforced, he said.

The Delhi government also announced the sealing of 20 coronavirus hotspots comprising small pockets of settlements and apartment complexes, and made it compulsory for people to wear face masks when stepping outdoors.

At the meeting of the floor leaders, the PM said the country had been forced to take tough decisions and must remain vigilant. He said the priority of the government was saving each and every life.

“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 said after the meeting.

The PM, however, said the impact of the emerging situation could be witnessed in resource constraints. “Yet, India has been among the few nations to control the pace of spread of the virus till now,” Modi said.

The PM, however, “warned that the situation keeps changing continuously and one needs to maintain vigil at all times”.
Modi said the country was facing serious economic challenges as a result of Covid-19, and the government was committed to overcoming them.

Opposition leaders flagged the issue of shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health workers. Some said the government should avoid spending Rs 20,000 crore on its plan to redevelop the central vista in the national capital.

Azad said MNREGA workers should be deployed in helping farmers harvest their crop free of cost; and pesticides, fertilizers and other agriculture equipment exempted from GST.

Azad suggested the setting up of a government task force with chief ministers of the worst-affected states as members for better coordination since they had their ears to the ground, as also a separate multi-party forum. He also suggested changing the education calendar for the year and restarting some of the factories to maintain supply of essential commodities.

Trinamool Congress’ Sudip Bandyopadhyay said Bengal had demanded Rs 25,000 crore aid, and Rs 36,000 crore that the Centre owed it. He protested diverting of MPLADS funds to the Consolidated Fund of India.

Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar said the Tablighi Jamaat incident was unfortunate, but round-the-clock demonising of a particular sect or community needed to stop.

Meanwhile, state governments have begun acting to tackle the fallout from the lockdown and the setback to local economies.
In Madhya Pradesh, for instance, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government constituted a four-member committee to suggest ways to handle the economic crisis.

In West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee indicated she was readying herself for an extension of the lockdown and said if lives could be saved, they must be saved.


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