By Sarwar Kashani
New Delhi, Mar 24.-(efe-epa) Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday urged 1.3 billion Indians to not venture out of their homes for the next three weeks and ordered a curfew-like nationwide lockdown to stop the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
“From midnight today, the entire nation is going to go into a complete lockdown. This is like a curfew,” Modi said in a televised address to the nation.
The world’s second-most populous country and one of the largest economies in the world, has already taken a huge economic hit because of the outbreak and the closure of businesses for the next three weeks could worsen the situation further.
But Modi said the decision was necessary to stop the coronavirus fire from spreading. “To save India, to save every citizen of India, to save you and your family is my topmost priority, of my government and the nation.”
The densely-populated country appears to have so far prevented the pandemic from spreading too much.
There have been just over 500 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 10 deaths related to the disease until now. South Korea on the other hand with only 52 million people has over 9,000 cases.
China, the world’s most populous country with a total population of 1.39 billion – where the disease is said to have originated – has more than 81,000 confirmed cases with thousands of deaths.
Citing the instances of other countries, Modi cautioned against being complacent and said that the notion that the virus won’t hit us was not correct.
He said social distancing was the only way to prevent the disease and the infection had got out of control in countries with advanced health systems like China, the United States, Germany, France, Italy, and Iran because they could not mitigate its spread.
The prime minister said the next three weeks would be “very critical for every citizen” and the lockdown “is necessary to break the infection cycle of coronavirus”.
“If we don’t do observe the lockdown strictly for 21 days, our society will be pushed back 21 years. So, forget to go out for the coming 21 days. Draw a Lakshman Rekha (boundary line) around your houses from now onwards and don’t cross it.”
The prime minister also announced an emergency financial package of 150 billion rupees (nearly$2 billion) to boost India’s healthcare.
The funds would be used to procure personal protection equipment for medical professionals, increasing isolation wards and ICU beds, and for the training of medical and paramedical manpower, he said.
India’s overall healthcare system is allegedly below par and not adequate to fight a full-blown virus outbreak.
The country “with an economy worth $2.3 trillion,* spends only 3.6 percent of its GDP on public health as compared to major economies like the US (17 percent), Germany (11 percent) and the United Kingdom (nearly 10).
The Asian country also has just 0.5 hospital beds and 0.8 doctors for every 1,000 people. The World Health Organization recommends an average of at least five beds and one doctor for every 1,000 citizens. EFE-EPA