By Neha Arora
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Indians to comply with a nationwide lockdown and social distancing measures on Sunday, a day after some of the world’s toughest restrictions were eased slightly while cases of COVID-19 continued to mount.
In a radio address, Modi said the country was in the midst of a “war” and the country’s 1.3 billion citizens should not be misled into believing the spread of the virus had been brought fully under control by more than a month of lockdown.
“We should not be trapped into over-confidence and nurse the belief that coronavirus has not reached our city, our village, our streets, our office, and so will not reach them,” Modi said.
India’s high population density, poor sanitation infrastructure and high levels of internal migration have raised concern over the spread of the virus. The country has reported 26,496 cases of COVID-19, the disease it causes, and 824 deaths.
The authorities have set up teams to focus on compliance with lockdown measures imposed on March 25, but experts fear they have not been able to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“Physical distancing, covering the face with a cover or a mask and washing our hands again and again will be the biggest medicine to fight this disease in the days to come,” Modi said.
The lockdown, in which domestic and international travel is banned and factories, schools, offices and all shops other than those supplying essential services are shut, is slated to end on May 3, but authorities may extend it.
On Saturday, India allowed some small shops in residential areas to reopen with half the usual number of staff members working at any one time wearing masks and gloves.
The government announced a spending package of 1.7 trillion rupees ($22.29 billion) in March and told Reuters on Friday it was offering food and cash for essentials to poor and marginalized people and had set up relief camps in various parts of the country.
The $2.9 trillion economy, already slowing, may end up not growing at all in the fiscal year that began on April 1, private economists say, putting further pressure on jobs.
In Modi’s home state of Gujarat, government officials on Sunday reversed the decision to open several retail outlets, citing growing numbers of infections across the western state.
Authorities continued to send hundreds of migrant labourers who had set out on foot from cities where they had lost their livelihoods to their homes or to quarantine centres across India.
In the eastern state of Odisha, nearly two dozen fishermen were stopped and quarantined at the coast after they had sailed for five days from the southern coast, an official said.
Thousands of people pack coronavirus quarantine centres in government buildings across India, complaining of poor food and sanitation. A lack of social distancing between inmates has led to minor scuffles.
Three men were arrested after a woman said she was gang-raped while under temporary quarantine alone in a school building in the desert state of Rajasthan, police said.
Many healthcare workers also complained of poor facilities at India’s overburdened hospitals and nursing homes.
In West Bengal state, a health official succumbed to COVID-19 infection on Sunday, the state chief minister said. Two policemen died in western city of Mumbai after being infected by the virus in past two days, officials said.
For a graphic on India’s death rates, please see: https://tmsnrt.rs/3bBGfZ5
SOUTH ASIA CASES RISE
Neighbouring Nepal extended a nationwide lockdown until May 7, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases increased to more than 50.
Sri Lanka imposed a 24-hour nationwide lockdown after nearly a hundred cases of the novel coronavirus emerged at a navy camp near the capital city of Colombo.
Afghan authorities were struggling to implement lockdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in a province bordering Iran where the outbreak is widening due to an influx of Afghan returnees and men refusing to adhere to social distancing.
Hundreds of textile workers in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka took to the streets on Sunday demanding wages, flouting social distancing measures imposed during the country’s lockdown..
Here are official government figures on the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia:
* India has reported 26,496 cases, including 824 deaths
* Pakistan has reported 11,940 cases, including 253 deaths
* Afghanistan has reported 1,531 cases, including 50 deaths
* Sri Lanka has reported 485 cases, including seven deaths
* Bangladesh has reported 5,416 cases, including 145 deaths
* Maldives has reported 34 cases and no deaths
* Nepal has reported 52 cases and no deaths
* Bhutan has reported seven cases and no deaths
($1 = 76.2600 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Neha Arora; Additional reporting by Jatindra Dash in Bhubneswar, Subrata Nagchoudhury in Kolkata, Sumit Khanna in Ahmedabad, Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow, Waruna Karunatilake in Colombo, Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu, Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Editing by Rupam Jain, Christian Schmollinger, Philippa Fletcher)