India's Modi orders total lockdown for 21 days

March 25, 2020 07:31
A replica of an elephant with a face mask is paraded through the streets to promote awareness against Covid-19 in Chennai, India, on Monday. Photo: Reuters

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday the government would impose a lockdown across the nation of 1.3 billion people from midnight for 21 days to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

“There will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes,” Modi said in a televised address.

Health researchers have warned that more than a million people in India could be infected with the coronavirus by mid-May, prompting the government to shut down all air and train travel, businesses and schools.

On Tuesday, Modi, leader of the world’s biggest democracy, went further, saying nobody would be allowed to leave their homes.

“The only way to save ourselves from coronavirus is if we don’t leave our homes, whatever happens, we stay at home,” Modi said.

India has so far reported 482 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and nine deaths.

The highly contagious disease has caused entire regions to be placed on lockdown. In some places soldiers are patrolling the streets to keep consumers and workers indoors, halting services and production and breaking supply chains.

“The global health crisis is rapidly morphing into a global recession, as there is a clear tension between preventing infections and ruining the economy,” said Edoardo Campanella, an economist at UniCredit Bank in Milan.

Confirmed coronavirus cases around the world exceeded 377,000 across 194 countries and territories as of early Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally, more than 16,500 of them fatal.

Of the top 10 countries by case numbers, Italy has reported the highest fatality rate, at around 10 percent, which at least partly reflects its older population.

The fatality rate globally – the ratio of deaths to confirmed infections – is around 4.3 percent, though national figures can vary widely according to how much testing is done.

Britain, believed by experts to be about two weeks behind Italy in the outbreak cycle, on Tuesday began curbs on movement without precedent in peacetime after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the country to stay at home.

The streets of the capital were quiet as all but essential shops closed and people only went to work if it was unavoidable.

Johnson had resisted pressure to impose a full lockdown even as other European countries had done so, but was forced to change tack as projections showed the health system could become overwhelmed.

'On verge of collapse'

In Spain, the worst-hit country in Europe after Italy, the number of new coronavirus cases jumped on Tuesday to 39,673 from 33,089 cases registered on Monday, the health ministry said.

The number of fatalities rose to 2,696 overnight from 2,182, the ministry said.

Nursing union SATSE said Madrid’s hospitals were on “the verge of collapse” and needed urgent support, while a doctors’ union said it had filed a lawsuit demanding protective equipment within 24 hours.

The capital’s Palacio de Hielo mall, home to an Olympic-sized ice rink, began operating as a makeshift mortuary after authorities said facilities were unable to cope.

Health emergency chief Fernando Simon attributed the nearly 14 percent infection rate among medical staff to limited availability of protective equipment and several early clusters of the virus occurring in hospitals.

He said pressure on intensive-care units would continue even after transmission of the virus among the general population had peaked.

Madrid’s AMYTS doctors’ union said it had filed a lawsuit to force the regional health authority to deliver scrubs, masks and goggles to hospitals and other health centers. A spokesman for the authority declined to comment.

In Catalonia, prosecutors opened an investigation into two nursing homes after at least 13 residents died of the virus at a home in Capellades and nine more at a home in Olesa de Montserrat.

Olesa’s local government warned of a critical situation due to a lack of staff.

Military units, dispatched to help care homes comply with sanitary regulations, disinfected 179 facilities on Monday and planned to clean another 96 on Tuesday, officials said.

The state prosecutor launched a separate investigation after the army found unattended bodies at some homes.

In the southern region of Andalusia, the mayor of a small town pleaded for help after reporting 38 of 42 residents at the local nursing home had tested positive for the virus, along with 60 percent of staff.

"We need oxygen, ambulances and hospitals," Alcala del Valle's Mayor Rafael Aguilera said in a video here posted on the town's Facebook page. "A person died in our arms because we couldn't get hold of oxygen."

Unreported cases

In Italy, experts said the number of coronavirus cases in the country is probably 10 times higher than the official tally.

Italy has seen more fatalities than any other country, with latest figures showing that 6,077 people have died from the infection in barely a month, while the number of confirmed cases has hit 64,000.

However, testing for the disease has often been limited to people seeking hospital care, meaning that thousands of infections have certainly gone undetected.

“A ratio of one certified case out of every 10 is credible,” Angelo Borrelli, the head of the Civil Protection Agency, told La Repubblica newspaper, indicating he believed as many as 640,000 people could have been infected.

After four weeks of steep increases in deaths and cases, the growth rate has eased since Sunday, raising hopes that the most aggressive phase of the contagion might be over.

“The official numbers of the last two days indicate a slowdown in the epidemic,” said Giorgio Gori, the mayor of Bergamo, a small city in the northern region of Lombardy that has suffered the heaviest death toll in the country.

“I am being cautious because I do not want to delude myself, but at the same time I have a lot of hope that two whole weeks of lockdown plus increasingly restrictive measures are producing results,” he told a group of foreign reporters.

The government has shut down all non-essential business until April 3 and the government is considering further tightening the screws such as by hiking fines for people violating the shutdown to up to 4,000 euros (US$4,300) from a maximum 206 euros at present.

Gori said he did not see how business could remain shuttered for much longer, but indicated that the government might look to extend restrictions on those who have proved most vulnerable to the virus, especially the elderly.

Ventilators confiscated

The Civil Protection Agency said the biggest difficulty facing the country was a shortage of masks and ventilators – a problem that has dogged the health system since the contagion first surfaced in Lombardy on Feb. 21.

Underscoring the problem, the regional governor of Veneto, Luca Zaia, ordered the confiscation of ventilators at veterinaries, saying they could be converted to human use.

With other countries looking to hoard their own medical supplies, a consortium of Italian textile and fashion companies have converted their production lines and will soon be able to produce half the required amount of masks.

“[This] will give our system the ammunition that we need in order to fight this war and avoid our total dependence on imports,” Domenico Arcuri, the national commissioner for the emergency, told reporters.

The government has said a number of industrial sectors, including medical suppliers, must keep operating during the crisis, but there is growing unhappiness among some unions who think the prescribed list of strategic concerns is too wide.

Workers in the metal, chemical, textile, rubber-plastic and paper industries were expected to go on strike on Wednesday, alarming the government, which is holding talks with unions to try to stave off the stoppages. Reuters

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