Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has extended the country’s nationwide lockdown until May 3 in a bid to contain the continued spread of the coronavirus, but said that some states which have avoided outbreaks may be allowed to resume “important activities.”
Speaking in a televised address on Tuesday, Modi said it was vital that the virus is prevented from impacting parts of the country that remain unaffected.
“My request to all my countrymen is that coronavirus will not be allowed to spread across new areas at any cost,” said Modi, who wore a scarf covering his mouth and nose which he removed before speaking. “We have to be very careful about hotspots. We will have to keep a close watch on the places that are expected to become hotspots.”
The 21-day lockdown for India’s 1.3 billion people came into force at the end of the day on March 24 and was set to expire on Tuesday, April 14.
Since the lockdown was enforced, only essential services have been operational. Those include water, electricity, health services, fire services, grocery stores and municipal services.
All regular shops, commercial establishments, factories, workshops, offices, markets and places of worship have been closed and interstate buses and metros have been suspended. Construction activity was also halted during this period.
“Until May 3, all of us will have to remain in lockdown. During this time, we have to follow the same discipline as we have been doing,” Modi said.
Following Modi’s address, India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation tweeted that all domestic and international scheduled flights will remain suspended until end of day on May 3. Similarly, India’s Ministry of Railways tweeted that all passenger train services will also remain suspended until then.
Before the speech, several Indian states had ordered extended lockdowns until April 30, in an attempt to stop the virus from spreading. Those included Maharashtra, which has reported 2,334 cases and 160 deaths – the worst outbreak in the country.
Lockdown could be eased in some areas
While the lockdown measures will continue, Modi said that some states and districts that have shown to have avoided an outbreak “could be allowed to resume select necessary activities” but with conditions.
“Until April 20, every town, every police station, every district, every state will be evaluated on how much the lockdown is being followed. The extent to which the region has protected itself from coronavirus will be noted,” Modi said. “The rules for going out will be very strict. Permission will be withdrawn immediately if lockdown rules are broken, and spread of coronavirus risked.”
The Prime Minister did not offer any specifics but said “detailed guidelines” will be issued by the government on Wednesday.
A likely scenario could be exceptions for sectors such as farming, which is key to food production, the economy as well as the livelihoods of millions of agriculture workers.
“While creating the new guidelines, we have kept in mind the interests of the poor and daily wage workers,” Modi said. “The harvesting of winter crops is also underway. The central government and the state governments are working together to ensure farmers face minimal problems.”
India is the world’s second most populous country and the fifth biggest economy, and there are fears that the country’s health systems would not be able to cope with a major outbreak. On Tuesday, India surpassed 10,000 reported coronavirus cases.
The country has at least 10,363 reported cases, including 339 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health.
Modi acknowledged that India has “limited resources” but said the country was “making progress on the health infrastructure front.”
“In January, we had just one lab to test, now testing is being done in more than 220 labs,” he said.
India has long faced criticism for its low testing rates, which could belie the true extent of the virus’s spread in the country and make ending the lockdown difficult.
As of April 12, India had conducted a total of 206,212 tests.
In his speech, Modi thanked citizens for adhering to the lockdown restrictions over the past three weeks.
“You have faced difficulties to save yourself and the nation,” he said. “I understand the great difficulties you are facing regarding food, the lack of movement. Some had to stay away from their families. You are fulfilling duties as disciplined soldiers for the sake of the nation.”
Modi also touted his administration’s efforts in preventing the infection from spreading “compared to other countries.”
“India didn’t wait for the problem to escalate. Instead, as soon as the problem appeared, we tried to stop it by making swift decisions. I can’t imagine what the situation would have been had such quick decisions not been taken.”
CNN’s Karen Smith contributed.