Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 19 urged Indians across the country to face the coronavirus pandemic with collective determination and patience, to make sure that “humanity and India prevails”. In his address to the nation over television, Mr. Modi also announced the setting up of the COVID-19 task force, under Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for measures to mitigate some of the economic hardships engendered by the pandemic.
There were nine calls to action in Prime Minister Modi’s address including a self-imposed ‘janata curfew’ (people’s curfew) on March 22, not to resort to panic buying, asking senior citizens to stay indoors, social distancing, avoiding elective surgery or routine health check-ups to not over burden health services, asking employers to pay employees in full when they have to stay home and to stay away from rumours.
The pandemic, the Prime Minister said, was a serious, global crisis, “involving more countries than any previous natural or political crisis, even during World War I or World War II”.
Mr. Modi said as there was no clear treatment, medicine or vaccine that had been found to counter the novel coronavirus, it was incumbent on people to observe escalation via social distancing. He asked all Indians, as a sign of their collective determination to observe a voluntary people’s curfew between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. on March 22. This, he said, would be observed and implemented by the people themselves, to not stir out of their houses.
He also asked that on March 22, at 5 p.m., people should step out on their balconies, verandas or doorways and express by clapping or beating thalis (metal plates) , their appreciation for the work of those employed in hospitals, airports, railways, police and other essential services, who he said “were our bulwark, till now against the pandemic”.
He urged people to give up the attitude that all was well or that they would, somehow, escape the disease. “Since there is no firm treatment available for this virus, social distancing is the only thing to do. Therefore, give me a few weeks, and avoid going out unless it is strictly necessary,” he said.
The Prime Minister reiterated that enough supplies of necessities were available and he assured people that there was no situation where this would not be so.
“Therefore, I urge all of you to avoid panic buying and buy only as much as you would normally do,” he said.
Stating that the economic impact of the pandemic was significant and world wide, Mr. Modi said he had set up a ‘COVID-19 Task Force” under Ms. Sitharaman to consult with stakeholders and come up with measures to address the crisis.
Appeal to employers
“This pandemic will hit our middle and lower middle class and our poor economically,” he said, appealing to industrialists and employers to ensure that salaries of employees is not cut due to temporary shutting down of businesses and to take a “humane view” of things.
Mr. Modi also asked people to desist from routine check ups and elective surgeries as hospitals would get overloaded. “I urge you all that if you have a check up scheduled, please postpone it for a few days or try and get advise over the phone. Please postpone elective surgeries too,” he said. He urged senior citizens to stay indoors, stating “stay healthy to keep others healthy”.