India’s financial capital shuts down a day after Modi asks the country to brace for the worst

When will this end?
When will this end?
Image: (AP Photo/Channi Anand)
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This story has been updated.

A day after prime minister Narendra Modi asked Indians to prepare for the worst, by observing a self-imposed curfew on March 22, the western state of Maharashtra has ordered the lockdown of four cities to contain Covid-19.

All offices in the country’s financial capital, Mumbai, besides Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, and Nagpur, will be closed till March 31, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray announced today (March 20). All shops, excluding those selling essential items, will also be shut. Maharashtra has the highest positive cases of coronavirus in the country.

Meanwhile, popular Bollywood singer Kanika Kapoor reportedly tested positive for Covid-19 today and has been admitted to a hospital in Lucknow. The 41-year-old singer reportedly returned from London last week and attended a party at a five-star hotel in Lucknow. Several high-profile people who were at this party, including Vasundhara Raje, the national vice president of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, have self-quarantined following the news.

Yesterday, Modi had sought to reassure a jittery nation about its ability to battle the global coronavirus pandemic.

In a 30-minute address, broadcast nationwide at 8pm, he asked citizens to draw upon their resolve and urged their restraint in these testing times. Modi assured there was no need to panic as the country had the resources and will to combat Covid-19.

He, however, warned against being complacent; the disease has claimed four lives so far in the country.

“It’s not an ordinary thing for a developing nation like India to face coronavirus,” he said. “Even World War I and World War II did not affect as many countries as coronavirus has.”

In order to get citizens used to facing the challenge, Modi asked them to observe a self-imposed curfew on March 22 between 7am and 9pm. As a precautionary measure, he appealed to citizens to refrain from stepping out unnecessarily in the near future. “I need the next few weeks from you. Science has not been able to give us a vaccine yet.”

Modi further appealed to citizens to show gratitude towards delivery workers, doctors, nurses, medical staff, and other individuals who cannot afford to stay indoors in these circumstances. “On March 22, at 5pm on our doors, balconies or wherever, for five minutes, we should express our gratitude for these workers by clapping, or by ringing a bell,” he said. “I request the local administration to blow a siren to inform everyone about this in their respective areas.”

Appealing to traders to look after the welfare of their staff, he asked them to not cut wages. He assured the nation that India has enough stock of essential goods and medicines and requested citizens not to hoard provisions out of panic.

The centre, he said, has constituted a Covid-19 economic task force under the finance minister to limit the pandemic’s impact on the economy.

The battle is on

Meanwhile, precautionary measures are being beefed up. India has announced a week-long ban on all incoming international commercial flights from March 22.

The decision comes after domestic carriers either suspended overseas operations or curtailed frequency on global routes. Besides the civil aviation sector, Indian Railways has suspended all concessional travel except for students, patients and for differently-abled persons.

Advisory issued by the government on March 19.
Advisory issued by the government on March 19.

Additionally, various state governments also stepped up their fight against Covid-19.

The West Bengal government announced Rs5 lakh ($6,685) insurance each to 10 lakh government medical staff across the state till April 15. It had earlier announced to create a Rs200 crore fund to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

The southern state of Kerala announced a Rs20,000 crore special package to battle Covid-19.

States like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharashtra have imposed section 144 of the Indian penal code that bars large gatherings. The Haryana agricultural marketing board announced a closure of vegetable markets till March 31.

Indian investors, though, continued to lose. Benchmark indices ended in the red for a fourth straight day today. So far, Rs51 lakh crore of investor wealth has been wiped out since Jan. 20, when the Sensex hit an all-time high of 42,273 points.