- PM Modi said yesterday people must be prepared for the long haul
- The government said decision would be declared "at the right time"
- India has over 4,400 coronavirus cases now, including 114 deaths
Top government sources today said "a lot of state governments as well as experts" had requested that the 21-day lockdown to check the spread of coronavirus be extended beyond April 14. The central government is considering it, the sources said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who announced the lockdown on March 24, had said yesterday that in the fight against the highly contagious virus, people must be prepared for the long haul. At a cabinet meeting, he had urged ministers to come up with a "graded plan", which was seen by many to indicate a gradual rollback.
Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said after the meeting that a decision would be taken "in the national interest" at the right time. "We are monitoring the world situation every minute. A decision will be taken in the national interest. A decision in this regard will be declared at the right time," Mr Javadekar said, adding that an empowered group of officials was assessing the situation.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao is among those who have pitched for extending the lockdown.
"My personal opinion is that lockdown has to continue longer. We need to save lives, later we can save the economy," Mr Rao, whose state has the fourth highest number of COVID-19 cases, said on Monday.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot favoured a phased withdrawal of restrictions. "We cannot withdraw lockdown immediately, it has to be done in a phased manner," Mr Gehlot was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
The BJP-led Assam government said it would support any proposal by the central government of a "systematic and scientific" withdrawal of the nationwide lockdown.
"We have consulted within the state on what should be the mode of withdrawal of lockdown. We don't want that everything should be opened on 15th April morning. We want it to be a systematic and scientific withdrawal of lockdown so that the benefits during the lockdown aren't wasted in a single day," said Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Similar voices of concern have emerged from BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.
"Where there are red alerts and zones, those zones, in my opinion, should continue to be in a lockdown situation at least for two weeks...till this month-end, I will request them (the Centre) to do this," said Karnataka minister Sudhakar K.
Awanish Awasthi, Additional Chief Secretary, Uttar Pradesh, said: "When we open the lockdown it will be after we have ensured that the state is corona free. If even one corona positive person is left, it will be very difficult to open the lockdown and that is why it may take time."
In Monday's cabinet meet - the first via video link -- PM Modi said the government must work on war-footing to mitigate the fallout of coronavirus and ministries should prepare a graded plan "to slowly open departments where there are no hotspots".
Last week, during a video-conference with chief ministers, the PM had asked for a plan for staggered movement of people after the lockdown ends.
India has 4,789 coronavirus cases now, including 124 deaths.