Prime Minister Narendra Modi indicated on Saturday, after a marathon four-hour video conference with Chief Ministers, that the country could see a 14-day extension of the lockdown as that was the common demand of a large number of States including West Bengal. The Central government will be announcing guidelines for the same in the next couple of days.
A set of remarks made by Prime Minister Modi at the meeting also shed light on the possibility that some economic activity may be restarted even in the extended lockdown period. “For the last two weeks or more people have shown great discipline and stayed indoors and tried to follow social distancing, since, as we say jaan hai jahan hai [the world for he who is alive], now we must also say jaan bhi jahan bhi [life and world],” a statement from PMO quoted the Prime Minister as saying, conveying an evolution in the strategy.
Puducherry Chief Minister V. Narayanswamy after the meeting said Prime Minister Modi felt that farm activity should continue and said guidelines would be issued by the Centre on construction industry in a graded manner.
The lockdown had been formally announced from March 25 to April 14 (21 days) but the trajectory of COVID-19 cases has led most State governments to recommend the extension of the lockdown to Prime Minister Modi, who, government sources said was favourably considering the request. Sources added that a formal announcement would be made after the weekend.
“Most States requested Prime Minister Modi to extend the lockdown for two more weeks. The Central government is considering the request,” said government sources.
Punjab and Odisha had already declared an extension till the end of the month and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal pre-empted a formal announcement by Prime Minister Modi by taking to twitter and offering unstinted support to the decision.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel in his intervention had said activity within districts unaffected by COVID-19 be allowed to restart albeit with sealed borders between districts and States very much in place and no train and air connectivity.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy said zones within districts be colour coded and only the red zones undergo a containment lockdown. He added, however, that his government was amenable to whatever decision taken by the Central government.
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh asked for more funds for the rapid upgradation of health services in his State and a one-time increase in the borrowing limit from 3% to 4% of the State’s GDP by amending the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Amendment Act, 2003. He also demanded a bonus for farmers to incentivise staggered/delayed procurement of wheat and quicker movement of grains from the godowns of the FCI.
J&K Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu said the Union Territory had witnessed four deaths and 224 positive cases, with 98% of the cases having travel history or contacts of the positive patients. He said five districts are affected and 77 areas have been declared red zones.
Quoting the Prime Minister, a J&K government spokesman said Mr. Modi observed that the next 3-4 weeks are critical to determine the impact of the steps taken till now to curb the spread and suggested specific measures for agriculture and allied sector.
Later, the Lt. Governor ordered effective implementation of restrictions in the red zones with aggressive and targeted testing to contain the spread of the COVID-19.
Prime Minister Modi expressed distress at the instances of attacks on doctors and medical staff and at incidents of misbehaviour with students from the northeast and Kashmir. He underlined that such cases need to be dealt with firmly. He also spoke about the need to curb lockdown violations and ensure that social distancing is followed.