Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a complete lockdown across the country for 21 days from Tuesday midnight, asserting that social distancing is the only way out for the country to fight a decisive battle against coronavirus outbreak.
In his second national broadcast in a week on the pandemic raging across much of the world with the number of infections rising in India, Modi made a fervent appeal to the countrymen not to cross the 'lakshman rekha' of their homes in the next three weeks.
"If the situation is not handled in these 21 days, the country and your family could go back by 21 years. If situation is not handled in these 21 days, several families will get devastated forever," he said underlining the massive danger the coronavirus poses.
"Jaan hai toh jahan hai (the world exists only when we live)," he said, recalling a Hindi idiom to stress on the significance of his appeal.
The Centre and state governments have taken measures to ensure that the supply of all essential items continue smoothly, he said, seeking to allay apprehensions among people about availability of food and other essential provisions.
"My fellow citizens, there is absolutely no need to panic. Essential commodities, medicines etc. would be available. Centre and various state governments will work in close coordination to ensure this," he tweeted after his speech.
Separately, the government issued detailed guidelines about the restrictions, along with certain exemptions.
In his nearly 30-minute address, Modi underscored the challenge India faces at a time when countries with world class health infrastructure have been left "helpless" due to the rapid pace of the coronavirus' spread as he repeatedly, at times with folded hands, asked people to remain indoors.
"To save India, to save every Indian, there will be a complete ban on people from stepping outside their houses from 12 midnight today," he said.
"Lockdown is being imposed on every state, union territory, district, village, mohalla and street," he added.
The lockdown will be like a "curfew" only but more stringent than the 'janata curfew', which the country had observed on Sunday, he said, adding it will have an economic cost but saving people's lives is of the paramount interest to his government.
The experience of countries, which have been able to contain the virus to some extent, and experts' views have made it clear that social distancing caused by a lockdown is the only way to break the cycle of the infection's spread, he said.
This is the only ray of light, he asserted, adding that his government asked states to give health infrastructure their top priority at present.
A lockdown in most of the country was already in place till March 31, and Modi's announcement extended it everywhere and for two more weeks after this month.
The lockdown will be applicable to everyone from the prime minister to a citizen in a village, he said.
Even countries like Italy, France and the US with world class infrastructure have found it hard to break the spread of the disease despite their relentless efforts, he said, emphasising the gravity of the situation.
"It took 67 days for it (COVID) to infect one lakh people at first, but only 11 days to reach a total of two lakh people. This is even more alarming that it took only 4 days for this disease to reach three lakh people from the count of two lakh.
If we want to restrict the spread of the coronavirus, we will have to break its chain of infection," the prime minister said.
He lamented that some people suffer from this wrong mindset that only infected persons need to follow social distancing, warning that such a view can endanger lives of others and their families.
"It will be impossible to estimate the price India will have to pay if this carelessness continues. Currently India is at a stage where our current actions will determine how much we are able to minimise the impact of this disaster," he said.
According to health experts, he said, a period of at least 21 days is extremely critical to break the infection chain of the coronavirus.
He also showed a banner he had seen on social media that read "Corona, i.e., Koi Road pe Na Nikle (no one should go out on the road)".
It is time to consistently keep strengthening our resolve and exercise caution at every step and observing patience and discipline, he said.
Modi also asked people to remember the hard work being put in by medical personnel, media and police among others during the ongoing crisis.
He noted that the lockdown has brought a very difficult time for the poor and added that the Centre along with states, individuals from civil societies and institutions is constantly striving to reduce their problems of the poor.
The Centre has put in place a provision of Rs 15,000 crore for treating coronavirus patients and strengthening medical infrastructure in the country.
"I am confident that every Indian will not only successfully fight this difficult situation but also emerge victorious," he said.
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