Lockdown unlikely to end in one go as positive cases cross 5200
Dashing hopes of a complete exit from the ongoing lockdown in one go, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said the country is facing a "social emergency" like situation as well as serious economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which showed a sharp spike in the infections, taking the nationwide tally to over 5,200 with at least 149 deaths.
After an interaction with Modi via video conference, several political leaders said the lockdown might not be lifted completely after April 14 and they were told by the prime minister that the pre-corona and post-corona life won't be the same.
"The situation in the country is akin to a social emergency...it has necessitated tough decisions and we must continue to remain vigilant," the prime minister told the leaders, according to an official statement. He asserted that his government's priority is to "save each and every life".
"The present situation is an epoch changing event in mankind's history and we must evolve to counter its impact," Modi said.
A number of states also indicated extension of the lockdown, at least in the areas identified as hotspots of the deadly virus spread, while wearing masks or face cover was made mandatory in Mumbai as also in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. Karnataka said restrictions can be lifted in unaffected areas and sale of liquor can be allowed after April 14 to help generate revenues to fight the crisis.
Uttar Pradesh decided to completely seal seriously affected areas in 15 districts, including some in Noida and Ghaziabad on the outskirts of the national capital. In Rajasthan, the state government decided to open mandis in a phased manner after end of the 21-day nationwide lockdown, which entered its 15th day.
The government also issued an advisory against labelling of any community or area for spread of COVID-19, as also against disclosure of names or addresses of those affected by the virus or under quarantine. It also warned against targeting healthcare and sanitation workers or police.
In his daily briefing, Union Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said states have been asked to focus on surveillance and contact tracing as well as on building hospital infrastructure. "We working with a twin approach -- focusing on social distancing and then implementing containment measures," he said.
The Supreme Court also asked the government to issue directions for facilitating COVID-19 tests in government or private labs for free of cost. As per the latest update from the ICMR, more than 1.2 lakh tests have been conducted so far across the country.
In its evening update, the Health Ministry said the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country has risen to 5,274 and 149 have died. Earlier in the day, the Ministry had said the tally rose by 773 in 24 hours till Wednesday morning, the biggest increase in this time period.
New cases were reported from Maharashtra (including in Mumbai's densely-populated Dharavi slums), Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Jammu & Kashmir, among other places. Ladakh's Lok Sabha member Jamyang Tsering Namgyal said the virus spread has been successfully contained in the union territory, while Sikkim government said not a single case has been detected so far in the state.
Interacting with floor leaders of opposition and other parties in Parliament via video conference, Prime Minister Modi said states, district administrations and experts have suggested extension of the ongoing lockdown beyond April 14 to contain the spread of the virus. Modi told the leaders that the country is facing "serious economic challenges as a result of COVID-19, and the government is committed to overcoming them."
Modi is scheduled to interact with all chief ministers on April 11.
"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 told PTI.
Separately, Uttarakhand and Goa joined several other states to favour extending the lockdown, while Punjab Government said it will take a call on April 10 on whether to extend the ongoing curfew in the state beyond April 14.