In his second address since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced a national lockdown from midnight on March 24. The lockdown will last for 21 days, he said, without mentioning how critical services were going to be maintained and essential supplies delivered and bought during this period if people are not meant to step outside the ‘Laxman rekha’of their front door.
The lack of details in Modi’s speech on this crucial point resulted in an almost nationwide spike in panic. Not only did the prime minister fail to mention concrete modalities on how the lockdown would allow for essential services and supplies to reach people, he left many people wondering whether all they would have to see themselves though till April 14 were the food and essentials already in their homes.
As soon as the speech ended, neighbourhoods and markets across the country saw a sudden rise in traffic and footfalls as people rushed to stock up on supplies, with concerns about social distancing – the goal of the lockdown in the first place – temporarily being ignored.
Soon afterwards, Modi took to Twitter twice to ostensibly quell the panic.
“From 12 midnight, the whole country will go on lockdown. To save india, to save all citizens of india, to save you and your family, there will be a total ban on stepping out of home,” he said.
“This is in effect a curfew…a step ahead of janata curfew,” he added.
The Ministry of Home Affairs eventually issued guidelines which noted that the lockdown would not cover shops selling medicines, food, groceries, fruit, vegetables, milk, meat, fish etc as well as home delivery of “essential goods including food, medicines” etc.
The MHA also listed the punishments in place for the lockdown.
Modi stressed repeatedly that if the lockdown was not maintained for these three weeks, then the pandemic could not be contained.
While Modi’s stress on social distancing during a rather long three-week countrywide lockdown is in line with what epidemiologists have been saying, his silence on how the authorities would manage the supply of food and other essential commodities during this period was puzzling since Sunday’s Janata Curfew – which Modi announced on March 19 – was meant to be a dress rehearsal for the real curfew and the government had adequate time to put in place an appropriate plan. All Modi would say, however, was that arrangements for essential services “are in place and will be in place in the days to come,” without going into details.
This was in contrast to the call for a lockdown announced by the New Zealand prime minister on Monday, with Jacinda Ardern telling her citizens that “supermarkets, doctors, pharmacies, service stations, access to essential banking services will all be available throughout New Zealand … If you do not have immediate needs, do not go to the supermarket. It will be there for you today, tomorrow, and the day after that.”
Economists had also hoped Modi would announce some welfare and relief measures for the poor – a package has reportedly been in the works for a week now – but other than expressing his concern for their plight the prime minister’s speech contained no concrete measures.
“Do just one thing, stay at home,” said the prime minister in a speech which largely focused on the merits of social distancing.
Modi, once again, asked for “time.”
“Draw a laxman rekha around your house. A step outside can draw the pandemic to your house,” he added, citing examples of how “a few countries” have been able to shed the pandemic’s effects by imposing strict lockdowns.
He held up a banner which, in Hindi, broke down the consonants of the word ‘corona’… into the adage, ‘koi road par na nikle.’ ‘No one step out on to the roads.’
Making a highly effective case for the urgent need for social distancing, Modi drew attention to the danger of the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus.
“It will take time to show signs. In 10 days, it can reach hundreds from one person,” Modi said, quoting WHO statistics.
“It took 67 days for the disease to reach the first 1 lakh, then in 11 days it touched 2 lakh,” he marvelled.
“It is impossible to say the price India will have to pay if irresponsible behaviour continues. For the past two days, the country’s many places have been lockdown. Take the state government’s decisions seriously.”
Modi’s announcement of the lockdown came after nearly a 10-minute long musing on the response to his call for the janata curfew on March 22.
Like always, Modi’s announcement that he would address the nation, on Twitter, sparked off speculation on whether the nation was headed for an Emergency.
In his last address on the virus outbreak, Modi had called for “resolve and restraint” to fight the disease. He had, notably, placed the onus on people to fight it and not announced any specific plans that his government would take.
His call for a ‘janata curfew’ received a rousing response. However, the call to applaud health workers and others at 5 pm on Sunday, March 22, flouted essential demands of social distancing for fighting the coronavirus spread.
(Courtesy: The Wire)