A general view of the Durgiana Temple following its closure to devotees amid concerns over the spread of Covid-19 in Punjab state's Amritsar on March 23. (Photo: Narinder Nanu/AFP)
India came to a grinding halt on March 23 as the federal and several state governments announced a lockdown in 85 districts, including major cities, as Covid-19 infection cases spiked to more than 400.
Authorities have shut down 85 of India’s 730 districts, including business nerve-center Mumbai and national capital New Delhi. Restrictions are imposed on people’s movement and businesses, with all non-essential movement of goods and travel temporarily suspended.
Inter-state buses, long-distance passenger trains, suburban trains and international flights have been suspended until March 31 in all the districts, forcing people indoors.
Districts facing lockdown are in the states of Maharashtra, Kerala, Telangana, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
The lockdown began after Indians stayed indoors on March 22 in self-imposed quarantine across the country following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for a "people’s curfew" to stress the importance of social distancing.
Millions of people, including women, children and the elderly, followed a Hindu ritual by standing outside their homes or on their balconies at 5pm to beat plates and blow conch shells to thank the health workers at the forefront of the fight against the killer virus.
Delhi police clamped prohibitory orders disallowing any gathering of more than five people at any place. All outdoor work such as construction came to a halt. Places of worship, including all Catholic churches across India, remained closed.
The Sunday Mass of Archbishop Anil Joseph Couto of Delhi was made available on social media channels. Some priests also streamed their Masses on social media to help people participate, said Father Savarimuth Sankar, public relations officer of Delhi Archdiocese.
Suspension of Masses evoked no criticism from Catholics because “people are sensible and do understand the situation,” he told UCA News.
“The archbishop’s Mass will be available online every day until the suspension is lifted,” Father Sankar said.
Father Stanley Kozhichira, who heads Signis India, the Catholic audio-visual organization, offered Mass in Hindi, the most popular Indian language, on March 22.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced the national capital would be placed under lockdown from 6am to midnight every day until March 31, with all shops and business establishments closed.
“Delhi’s border will also be sealed,” he said, announcing a special relaxation for the supply of essential commodities such as milk and groceries. Exceptions were also allowed to media persons, police and health workers.
Two of the seven deaths from Covid-19 have been reported in Maharashtra on the western coast. State capital Mumbai, known for its high-density slums, has reported 14 cases.
Political leaders, quoting health experts, say the pandemic needs to be checked at this stage as it could not be managed at the "community spread" stage in India with its high population density.
Derek O’ Brien, an Anglo-Indian parliamentarian from Kolkata belonging to regional party Trinamool (Grassroots) Congress, has urged the federal government to suspend the ongoing budget session of parliament, which is otherwise slated to continue until April 3.
Even in Mizoram in the northeast, dominated by tribal Christians, people followed Modi's curfew call. Northeastern states such as Mizoram and Assam are feared to be vulnerable to coronavirus as they share a border with Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh.