At All Party Meet, PM Modi Hints That COVID-19 Lockdown Could Be Extended

The prime minister all but ruled out completely lifting the lockdown, but the final decision on extending it may be announced after an interaction with the chief ministers.

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a video interaction on Wednesday with floor leaders of opposition and other parties in Parliament, ruled out all possibilities of a complete withdrawal of the nationwide lockdown. He also suggested that it may be necessary to extend the 21-day lockdown that ends on April 14 to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The video interaction was carried out as the last week saw India report a massive spurt in COVID-19 cases. Authorities have called the next few days as the “make-or-break week” as they have been struggling to stem the rising number of COVID-19 cases. The Union health ministry said that the number of infections has climbed to 5,149, while the number of deaths has also shot up to 149. The past 12 hours have registered one of the biggest jumps in confirmed cases.

Biju Janata Dal’s Pinaki Mishra confirmed that PM Modi told the politicians that the lockdown will not be lifted completely after April 14. Modi reportedly said that before taking any decision regarding the extension of the lockdown, he would consult all chief ministers. He emphasised that completely lifting the lockdown “is not possible”.

“The priority of the government is to save each and every life. The situation in the country is akin to a ‘social emergency’, it has necessitated tough decisions and we must continue to remain vigilant,” Modi reportedly said.

The prime minister said that life will not be the same again even after the pandemic is controlled. “Massive behavioural, social and personal changes will have to take place,” he reportedly said.

Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad, Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay and Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut were among those who joined the video conference. Last week, the prime minister had consulted opposition leaders like Congress president Sonia Gandhi and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and asked for suggestions.

Over the last few days, several leaders and experts had been speculating a continuation of the lockdown, given India’s exponential growth in confirmed COVID-19 cases. Some states had also been demanding an extension. Modi, on Wednesday, confirmed that the Union government was seriously deliberating upon taking such a decision.

Doctors interact with a patient who recovered from COVID-19 in Vijaywada. Photo: PTI

The prime minister’s final decision is likely to be announced this weekend. However, before the announcement, Modi will hold a meeting with the chief ministers on Saturday.

However, it is unclear how the Centre and state governments are planning to give relief to lakhs of migrant workers and informal sector workers who have been rendered jobless because of the lockdown. The issue of rising unemployment and strain on various businesses are also a problem that the governments face.

The Union health ministry stated that the government has identified multiple districts across the country to be sealed off. These areas have been identified as coronavirus hotspots or could potentially be hotspots. Even if the restrictions are eased, these factors will dictate how the government goes about lifting the lockdown.

A Group of Ministers had suggested on Tuesday that schools, colleges and religious centres should remain shut for many more weeks. It is also unlikely that public transport services like trains and buses, along with air travel, will begin to operate anytime soon.