Modi Asks 1.3 Billion Indians to Stay Indoors in Virus Fight

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India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the country’s 1.3 billion citizens to stay indoors to protect themselves from the fast-spreading coronavirus, hours after the government announced it was barring all international flights from landing in the country for a week starting March 22.

“We are a developing nation and for a country like us, this corona crisis is not an ordinary thing,” Modi said Thursday evening in an address to the nation, noting the pandemic had hit India’s economy.

He called for people to be on a day-long self-imposed curfew from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on March 22.

The federal government also asked states to enforce work-from-home for all private sector employees except those working in emergency and essential services, the state-run Press Information Bureau said in a statement. It advised citizens above 65 years and children below 10 years to stay at home.

India joined a growing list of countries effectively sealing its borders for overseas flights to prevent an outbreak. The South Asian nation has 173 confirmed cases, including four deaths so far — for now the biggest challenge for Modi is to shield an economy that’s set to expand at the slowest pace in more than a decade.

Modi said his government will form a panel to deal with economic challenges posed by the virus outbreak. The Covid-19 economic response taskforce will be led by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

States have also been asked to stop large public gatherings and curtail public transport services to a minimum, Lav Agarwal, a joint secretary in the health ministry, said at a separate press briefing in New Delhi. Educational institutions, exam centers and theater halls have been closed temporarily.

Modi urged Indians not to hoard or indulge in panic buying of essential commodities.

The measures come on a day when Australia and New Zealand said they are both banning non-residents from entering the country, following similar announcement by Taiwan. Indian airlines including Vistara, an affiliate of Singapore Airlines Ltd. and Go Airlines India Ltd., have already suspended all overseas flights, and budget carrier SpiceJet Ltd. has withdrawn most international services.

Worldwide, the cases hit 217,506, with the death toll topping 9,000.

Community Transmission

The federal health ministry maintained there has been no community transmission of the disease so far, while advising hospitals to avoid admission of non-urgent cases and minimize elective surgeries to hospital-related infections.

“There is no question of community transmission in this country,” Agarwal said. “These words unnecessarily create a scare in the minds of the people.”

The government’s measures are primarily focused on taking preventive steps, he said, adding that Thursday’s decisions were taken after a meeting of a group of ministers.

— With assistance by Anurag Kotoky

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