Residents wearing face masks watch Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to the nation on April 14 in Amritsar. Modi extended the nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the coronavirus. (Photo: Narinder Nanu/AFP)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today announced the extension of India's Covid-19 lockdown until May 3 without offering any aid measures to help businesses, the poor or the homeless.
He said the 21-day lockdown imposed on March 24 had helped to check the spread of the coronavirus but needed an extension.
"We have to be very careful about hotspots. We will have to keep a close watch on the places that are expected to become hotspots," Modi said, explaining the reasons for the extension.
Opposition parties have broadly welcomed the extension but regretted Modi did not offer any measures to help millions of daily-wage workers who have lost jobs and income because of the lockdown.
Shashi Tharoor, a parliamentarian of the opposition Congress party, said he supported the lockdown extension.
"Can't discard the gains being made. But he should have also announced serious relief for those who cannot make ends meet ... to sweeten the pill," Tharoor tweeted.
His remarks come a day after the Congress party urged Modi to be bold in declaring a financial package worth at least 5 percent of India's GDP to ensure economic recovery.
"In our fight against the pandemic, we must ensure that no one faces hunger," Congress president Sonia Gandhi said in a letter to Modi.
Her parliamentarian son Rahul Gandhi, often seen as the chief rival to Modi, tweeted: "The one-size-fits-all lockdown has brought untold misery and suffering to millions of farmers, migrant laborers, daily wagers and business owners."
He said the lockdown needed a "smart upgrade, using mass testing to isolate virus hotspots and allowing businesses in other areas to reopen gradually."
But Modi announced nothing of the sort. India might have paid a high economic price because of the lockdown but there can be no alternative to saving human lives, Modi asserted in his third national address on the coronavirus crisis.
The prime minister, however, kept the concerns of migrant workers, mainly from the unorganized sector, in mind.Among a seven-point charter of recommendations, he appealed to medium and small business entrepreneurs not to "retrench" workers or cut their salaries. But he did not announce any aid for these businesses.
Modi also did not mention the fate of millions of homeless people who live on the streets and daily-wage workers who become jobless because of the lockdown.
Increasing cases of virus
The announcement came amid a sustained increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in India. The country has reported 10,452 cases and 358 deaths, according to the latest data. This is more than double the 4,789 cases seven days ago.
Modi said the next week would be crucial and appealed for people to follow the rules of social distancing and the lockdown. The restrictions may be relaxed after April 20 in places where there are no cases or hotspots.
He said India has managed to contain the virus due to its "holistic approach." The lockdown had helped India manage the pandemic better than several other nations, he said
India acted early with restrictions and a lockdown. "Compared to developed countries, India today is in much better condition," he said.
Modi's remarks came against a backdrop of a slow but gradual increase in the number of cases in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and other places.
The PM asserted that "the path we have chosen is best for us."
Christian leader A.C. Michael, based in New Delhi, agreed with Modi. "This is the best option. We can't afford to lose lives at this juncture, so the best for us is to lock down for a few more days," said the former member of Delhi's Minorities Commission.
Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum, echoed similar sentiments. "In the present crisis, we have no choice. But the extension of the lockdown means poverty and hunger for thousands in the unorganized sector — daily workers, landless laborers, tribal people, migrants," he said.
The Christian leader added that "from the periphery, they have been pushed further out. Many are getting desperate and committing suicide. More may die of hunger than Covid-19."
Another Congress leader, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, said Modi's address lacked substance and was like "Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark."