People queue to buy supplies outside a supermarket during a nationwide lockdown in Bangalore. File/AFP
India on Tuesday extended until May 3 a nationwide lockdown for its 1.3 billion people as the number of coronavirus cases crossed 10,000 despite a three-week shutdown.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a televised address to the nation, said the challenge was to stop the virus from spreading to new parts of the country, but held out hope that some restrictions could be eased next week in the least-affected areas to allow essential activities.
"Till May 3, every Indian will have to stay in lockdown. I request all Indians that we stop the coronavirus from spreading to other areas," he said.
Modi spoke as latest government data showed the number of people infected with coronavirus had reached 10,363, with 339 deaths.
Though the numbers are small compared with hard-hit western nations, like the United States, Italy and Spain, health experts fear that is because of India's low levels of testing, and actual levels of infection could be far higher.
"The nation has benefited greatly from social distancing and lockdown. If we only look at it from the economic standpoint it looks expensive - we’ve had to pay a huge cost, but before the lives of Indians this has no comparison. "
Modi offered no immediate relief to the millions of people who have lost their jobs because of the shutdown of the 2.9 trillion economy, but said he felt their pain, with poor families struggling to afford food, and many migrant workers unable to reach their villages. Neighbouring Pakistan is also due to take a decision on its lockdown due to end on Wednesday. The World Bank has said economic growth in India and other South Asian countries is likely to be the slowest for four decades this year because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The lockdown is now largely being enforced in high-risk areas while authorities have partially restored train services and domestic flights and allowed shops and manufacturing to reopen.
India has seen a jump of nearly 100,000 cases over the past week, the health ministry said. In all, the country has confirmed 548,318 cases, making it the world’s fourth-worst affected country after the United States, Brazil and Russia. India’s death toll has reached 16,475.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said this week the country will pull out of the planned three-week lockdown in a phased manner. India has been hardest hit by the disease in South Asia with some 2,902 cases, of which 68 have died.
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