Coronavirus Pandemic: ‘Can Revive the Economy, Not the Dead’: India May Extend Lockdown Beyond April 14 as Death Toll Tops 111

New Delhi: The 21-day lockdown imposed across India to contain the spread of Covid-19 pandemic may be extended beyond April 14, sources told, even as death toll from deadly coronavirus hit 111 across the country.

The number of Covid-19 infections in the country climbed to 4,281, registering a record jump of 704 cases in 24 hours, according to Union Health Ministry data. The active COVID-19 cases stood at 3,851, while 318 people were either cured or discharged and one had migrated, the ministry stated.

According to the data updated at 6 pm, 28 deaths were reported in the last 24 hours — 21 from Maharashtra, two each from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, and one each from Punjab, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh.

According to the health ministry, Maharashtra has reported the most coronavirus deaths at 45, followed by Gujarat (12), Madhya Pradesh (9), Telangana (7), Delhi (7), Punjab (6) and Tamil Nadu (5).

Karnataka has reported four deaths, while West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have recorded three fatalities each. Two deaths each have been reported from Jammu and Kashmir and Kerala. Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana have reported a fatality each, according to the data.

While Cabinet Secretary Rajeev Gauba had a week ago denied that there were any plans to extend the lockdown, several states have written to the Centre saying that the restrictions must continue.

On Monday evening, Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao publicly urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to extend the lockdown, saying lives are more important that the economy.

“I am appealing to the Prime Minister and Government of India to extend lockdown without hesitation. Lockdown is the only weapon we have to control the spread of this disease and avoid a situation which countries like the US, Spain and Italy are facing,” KCR, as Rao is popularly known, told a news conference.

KCR said though the country’s economy would suffer because of lockdown, it can be revived by working hard and by making sacrifices over next six months to one year. “We can revive the economy but not the dead. The human life is the most precious,” he said.

Similar sentiments were echoed in Uttar Pradesh where the total number infection crossed 300. While chief secretary RK Tiwari said lockdown may extended if the number of cases in the state continues to rise, additional chief secretary (Home) Avneesh Avasthi said the lockdown may remain in place till UP becomes “coronavirus-free”.

While India’s curve is flatter than the one seen early on in the United States, it has been sharper than Asian peers like Singapore and Japan.

Another proposal that the government is considering is to lock down only the Covid-19 hotspots, and not extend the nationwide lockdown. The health ministry has identified at least 20 virus hotspot across the country and another 22 potential hotspots.

Earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi cautioned people to be ready for a “long fight” against Covid-19 and told his ministers to make plans for slowly exiting the ongoing lockdown.

Addressing his council of ministers in a video conference, Modi asked them to prepare business continuity plans to fight the economic impact of the virus on a war footing, but also asserted that this crisis is an opportunity to boost the ‘Make-in-India’ initiative and reduce dependence on other countries.

He also indicated a phased emergence from the lockdown and said that “a graded plan to slowly open departments where hotspots aren’t existing should be made”.

“This is going to be a long fight. We don’t have to tire or feel defeated. We have to win in this long battle. We have to emerge victorious. Today, the nation’s goal, mission and resolve are one, and this is to be victorious in this battle against the coronavirus pandemic,” Modi said.

Experts have opined that the lockdown, in its 13th day on Monday, has helped in slowing down the spread of the virus, but called for an exponential ramping up of the testing mechanism and upgrading of healthcare facilities. The Indian Council of Medical Research, which has so far conducted nearly 90,000 coronavirus tests, said orders have been placed for 5 lakh rapid antibody testing kits.

Worldwide, more than 12.5 lakh have been infected by the deadly virus since its outbreak in China in December last, while more than 70,000 have died including over 50,000 in Europe and more than 10,000 in the US.

The entire world is also battling a huge economic crisis due to the pandemic. France said on Monday it is heading for the worst recession since the World War II, while Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has proposed a state of emergency.

Sources said the Finance Ministry is also working on a new relief package for the Indian economy hit hard by the outbreak and the lockdown. Last month, the government had announced a Rs 1.70 lakh crore relief package in the form of food grains and cash transfers for poor and vulnerable sections to help them deal with the hardships caused by the lockdown.

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