Millions of people across India have been placed under lockdown until the end of the month as efforts to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country intensify.
Residents living in 75 districts across the country, including in major cities such as the capital New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata have been placed under travel, work and movement restrictions until March 31.
India – the world’s second most populous country – has 415 cases of the coronavirus, including seven deaths, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. A sudden rise in cases has led to growing concerns over the country’s capacity to test for the virus and that a major outbreak on the scale seen in Europe – the pandemic’s new epicenter – will spread in the country.
Dr. Balram Bhargava, director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, said that India has conducted 5,000 tests in the past week and a total of 15,000 so far. There are 111 labs operational with a per week testing capacity of 60,000 to 70,000 and around 60 more private labs are in the process of being approved to further increase testing capacity, according to Bhargava.
The decision to lock down parts of the country comes after India launched the world’s biggest exercise in social distancing on Sunday, with the nation’s 1.3 billion people asked to observe a self-imposed quarantine for 14 hours.
From 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday, offices and businesses shut, people stayed inside their homes, and the usually busy streets, markets and highways were eerily empty across the nation. In a display of public solidarity expressing thanks to the nation’s healthcare workers, people across India stood in their doorways and on balconies applauding, ringing bells and blowing conch shells, following similar scenes days prior in Italy and Spain.
The “public curfew,” announced by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week, was a test on whether an official curfew could be imposed across the country to stop the spread of Covid-19. Those restrictions were extended across large parts of the country late Sunday, effectively forcing millions of workers in India’s huge technology and financial sector to work from home for the rest of the month.
In New Delhi, public transportation, including the metro and rickshaws, has been suspended, all shops, factories, places of worship and offices have been shut, interstate travel has stopped, borders with neighboring states have closed and people are required to stay in their homes until March 31.
Exempt from the order are essential services such as grocery stores, hospitals, pharmacies, petrol stations, telecoms and postal services and restaurants that deliver food.
“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted on Sunday.
Several districts, including the financial capital of Mumbai, have banned gatherings of four or more people, and officials can take legal action against those who violate the rule.
Numerous state governments have extended the “district-ban” to include their entire states. In the northern Indian state of Punjab, the chief minister announced that, except for essential services, the whole state will be under a lockdown until March 31. Punjab has confirmed more than 20 cases, including one death.
Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Telangana have all initiated state-wide lockdowns versus targeted restrictions of cities and districts.
The central government advised the restrictions in 75 districts as these are places where coronavirus cases have been reported. Local governments can extend those restrictions to other areas at their discretion.
Maharashtra state, which includes Mumbai and Pune, has reported the most cases, with at least 67 infections, according to government figures. Kerala reported at least 52 cases and New Delhi has at least 26.
In the past few weeks, India has taken unprecedented steps to shut its borders, cancel visas and ban passengers from certain countries from entering Indian airspace.
On Sunday, India suspended passenger train services until March 31 after several travelers tested positive for coronavirus. India’s mammoth railway network spans more than 760 million kilometers (472 million miles) and carried 8 billion passengers in 2018-19.