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PM hints that lockdown could be extended

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Says, situation in country like 'social emergency'

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a video interaction on Wednesday with floor leaders of opposition and other parties in Parliament, ruled out all possibilities of a complete withdrawal of the nationwide lockdown. He also suggested that it may be necessary to extend the 21-day lockdown that ends on April 14 to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Likening the situation in the country to a “social emergency”, Prime Minister made it clear that the nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 cannot be lifted in one go on April 14, asserting that the priority of his government is to “save each and every life”.

He told the leaders that the country is facing “serious economic challenges as a result of COVID-19, and the government is committed to overcoming them.”

India is under the 21-day lockdown since March 25, with only essential services exempted, to contain the spread of coronavirus. As per the Union health ministry’s evening update, there are 149 deaths and 5,274 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country even as the country entered its third week of nationwide lockdown.

“Prime Minister Modi made it clear that lockdown is not being lifted and also that the life pre-corona and post-corona will not be same,” Biju Janata Dal leader Pinaki Misra told PTI.

Apart from Misra, others who participated in the meet included Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, also leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha, Nationalist Congress Party head Sharad Pawar, Samajwadi Party’ s Ram Gopal Yadav,  Bahujan Samaj Party’s Satish Misra, Lok Janshakti Party’s Chirag Paswan.

The meet comes amidst indications that the Central government may extend the lockdown across the country beyond April 14 after several states have favoured the extension to contain the fast-spreading virus, as the positive cases in the country show no signs of any let up.

“The situation in the country is akin to a social emergency. The country has been forced to take tough decisions, and must continue to remain vigilant,” the prime minister told the leaders, according to an official statement.

States, district administrations and experts have suggested extension of the ongoing lockdown beyond April 14 to contain the spread of the virus, Modi said. The official statement, however, did not mention whether the lockdown will be extended.

According to official sources, Modi will interact with chief ministers of all states on April 11 to discuss various issues related to the coronavirus outbreak including the lockdown.

Asserting that India has been among the few nations to control the pace of spread of the virus till now, Modi, however, warned that the situation keeps changing continuously and one needs to maintain vigil at all times.

Azad said the prime minister told the meeting that he has received several requests for extension of the lockdown to contain COVID-19, but will take a call on it after consulting experts and the chief ministers of various states.

Around 80 per cent of the leaders from various political parties, who interacted with the prime minister through video-conferencing, favoured extending the lockdown, the Congress leader said while Paswan told Modi that there has been a lot of speculation about the lockdown but the prime minister is in the best position to take a decision.

Paswan, however, said that any relaxation in the lockdown must be done in a phased manner, and district and state borders should remain sealed for a long time.

While crowded urban centres like malls and cinema halls can remain closed for more time, farmers in rural areas should be given relaxation, Paswan said.

Sources said, these leaders were briefed by secretaries of various ministries—health, home and rural development —on the actions taken by the government to tackle COVID-19 and mitigate the hardships arising out of the lockdown.

Several opposition leaders raised the issue of shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health workers in the country, a source said.


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