By Sarwar Kashani
New Delhi, Mar 22 (efe-epa).- India on Sunday observed a 14-hour complete shut down by staying indoors to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus that has infected over 340 and claimed five lives in the world’s second-most populous and densely-inhabited country.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had urged the nation to observe the curfew as a symbolic social distancing measure and step out only if necessary.
“Let us all be a part of this curfew, which will add tremendous strength to the fight against the COVID-19 menace,” Modi tweeted before the self-imposed 7 am-9 pm people’s curfew began. “The steps we take now will help in the times to come.”
He said the self-restraint would let the country “see and test how prepared India is for fighting off a corona like global pandemic”.
The otherwise over-crowded market places were empty and the country’s typically congested roads wore a deserted look as the people strictly observed the curfew.
Some thought that it was too weak a measure, arguing that a total shutdown should be extended because nothing else other than social distancing prevents the disease.
“I feel like it is necessary but I think it is too short for the moment, it shouldn’t be just a day, it should be more like a week,” Manek Gupta, a grocery shop owner in south Delhi, told EFE.
Gupta had opened his shop for some time to enable people to buy groceries but had hardly any customers.
“A lot of the countries have quarantined for weeks, for a period that will help. One day … won’t do much when people will come out tomorrow (for) their routine.”
Manoj Gupta, another store owner, said the shutdown should have been “for a week or 10 days”.
The calm that engulfed the country for the day was broken in the evening with loud cheers for the frontline fighters in the war against coronavirus – doctors, paramedics, airliners and public transporters.
Tens of millions of people across the country clapped, tolled bells, bashed steel pots and pans and blew into conch shells to express their gratitude and respect to the coronavirus warriors.
Modi had urged Indian citizens to stand on their balconies or near windows or front doors for 10 minutes at 5 pm on Sunday and cheer loudly “to boost their morale and salute their service”.
As the cases continue to surge across the country, the government announced more measures to curb the outbreak.
It said it has decided to completely lock down 75 districts across the country where people have tested positive.
Public transport services, including the national railway service, have also been shut down as the country fears entering stage three – community transmission – of the virus outbreak.
The metro rail in the capital of Delhi was suspended for the day as railway stations, which otherwise would be deafeningly boisterous, were unusually calm in the country of 1.3 billion people.
Suburban trains like metro services operating between 4 am to 10 pm on Sunday were canceled, the railways said in a statement.
The railway ministry canceled all long-distance train services, intercity trains and passenger trains until 31 March.