NEW DELHI: The Centre is said to be considering requests from several state governments to extend the 21-day lockdown, which is set to end on April 14 amid fears that not doing so will lead to a rapid escalation in coronavirus cases across the country. Highly placed government sources on Tuesday (April 7, 2020) claimed that in view of the request made by several state governments, the Centre is mulling to either extend the lockdown or only a partial lifting of restrictions.
The state governments are of the view that an extension or lifting of restrictions in a phased manner is the only way to avoid a coronavirus epidemic that will otherwise be difficult to tackle.
India has so far escaped a big surge in cases after Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked its 1.3 billion people to stay indoors in the world`s biggest lockdown last month that authorities have enforced tightly. However, shuttering down the USD 2.9 trillion economy has left millions of daily wage workers and labourers without work and forced them to flee to their homes in the countryside for food and shelter.
The chief ministers of the states of Telangana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Assam, UP, Madhya Pradesh etc, which had been hit by a rash of cases linked to Islamic religious outfit Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi, had called for extending the lockdown.
Telangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao had on Monday said that the country could take the hit to the economy and that it was more important to save lives. "I am for the lockdown of the country furthermore after April 15. Because we can recover from the economic problem. But we cannot get back lives," K. Chandrasekhar Rao told reporters.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot also favoured a phased withdrawal of the lockdown, saying it cannot be done immediately after the 21-day period ends. Addressing a press conference through video conferencing, he said saving lives is important and no step should be taken that would endanger lives.
"We cannot withdraw lockdown immediately. It has to be done in a phased manner, that is what I feel," Gehlot said when asked about the right time is to lift the countrywide lockdown over coronavirus. He said a decision on withdrawing the lockdown will, however, be taken after the recommendations of a task force set up in this regard are received.
MP CM Shivraj Singh too endorsed the view on extending lockdown. India has 4,421 coronavirus cases and 115 deaths, comparatively less than some countries such as the United States where fatalities from the respiratory disease has topped 10,000.
PM Modi, who has faced criticism for ordering the lockdown with barely four hours' notice. is due to make a decision this week about whether to extend it. The leaders of the eastern states of Assam and Chhattisgarh said that they would like to keep the state borders closed or allow only restricted entry while they dealt with the infections.
"As and when the lockdown is withdrawn, we have to regulate those wanting to come to Assam," said Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. Meanwhile, Union Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday chaired a Group of Ministers (GoM) meeting to decide the plan of action by the Centre on COVID-19.
The meeting took place at Singh`s residence. However, there was no decision taken on whether to end the lockdown on April 14 or extend it, in the meeting, the sources said. At the moment, the Centre seems to be weighing in two options - loss of livelihood versus a loss of life. However, any decision in this regard will come after PM Modi`s meeting with floor leaders and Chief Ministers where a common plan on lockdown is to be discussed.
Discussion on availability and smooth passage of essential supplies and particularly to Corona hotspots were discussed in the meeting as well, the informed sources said.
The meeting was attended by Home Minister Amit Shah, I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Consumer affairs minister Ram Vilas Paswan among others.