Modi Asks 1.3 Billion Indians to Stay Indoors in Virus Fight

Archana Chaudhary and Abhijit Roy Chowdhury
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Modi Asks 1.3 Billion Indians to Stay Indoors in Virus Fight

(Bloomberg) --

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the country’s 1.3 billion citizens to stay indoors to protect themselves from the fast-spreading coronavirus, hours after the government announced it was barring all international flights from landing in the country for a week starting March 22.

“We are a developing nation and for a country like us, this corona crisis is not an ordinary thing,” Modi said Thursday evening in an address to the nation, noting the pandemic had hit India’s economy. He called for a day-long self-imposed curfew from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on March 22.

The federal government also asked states to enforce work-from-home for all private sector employees except those in emergency and essential services, the state-run Press Information Bureau said in a statement. It advised citizens older than 65 years and children younger than 10 to stay home.

The prime minister largely skipped any mention of fiscal measures to help provide funds to deal with the outbreak, and did not announce any new medical or testing initiatives. The southern state of Kerala announced financial help worth 200 billion rupees ($2.7 billion) for citizens, making it the only Indian local administration to have announced fiscal measures of this scale. India’s benchmark Sensex index opened 0.6% higher on Friday.

India joined a growing list of countries effectively sealing their borders from overseas flights to prevent an outbreak. It has 195 confirmed cases so far.

Modi must also prevent further damage to an economy set to expand at the slowest pace in more than a decade. He said his government will form a panel to deal with economic challenges posed by the virus outbreak. The Covid-19 economic response task force will be led by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

States have been asked to stop large public gatherings and keep public transport services to a minimum, Lav Agarwal, a joint secretary in the health ministry, said at a separate press briefing in New Delhi. Educational institutions, exam centers and theater halls have been closed temporarily.

Panic Buying

Modi urged Indians not to hoard or indulge in panic buying of essential commodities.

The measures come on a day when Australia and New Zealand said they were both banning non-residents from entering the country, following a similar announcement by Taiwan. Indian airlines including Vistara, an affiliate of Singapore Airlines Ltd., and Go Airlines India Ltd., have already suspended all overseas flights. Budget carrier SpiceJet Ltd. has withdrawn most international services.

Worldwide the number of cases hit 217,506, with the death toll topping 9,000.

The federal health ministry said there was no community transmission of the disease so far, while advising hospitals to avoid admission of non-urgent cases and minimize elective surgeries. The government’s measures are primarily focused on taking preventive steps, Agarwal said, adding that Thursday’s decisions were taken after a meeting of a group of ministers.

“There is no question of community transmission in this country,” he said. “These words unnecessarily create a scare in the minds of the people.”

(Updates with state financial assitance in fourth paragraph)

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