Coronavirus: PM Narendra Modi wears a cotton cloth mask during a video conference
- At least 10 chief ministers seek lockdown extension amid COVID-19 fear
- Chief ministers can speak to me, give suggestions anytime: PM Modi
- Coronavirus pandemic killed 239, infected over 7,400 in India
At least 13 chief ministers of states including Punjab, Delhi, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, have asked for the lockdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic to be extended during a video conference with Prime Minister Narendra Modi today. "I am available 24x7. Any chief minister can speak to me and give suggestions (on COVID-19) anytime. We should stand together shoulder-to-shoulder," PM Modi, in a cotton cloth mask, assured the chief ministers in the meeting that lasted four hours. PM Modi took feedback from the chief ministers on whether the three-week lockdown to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus should end on Tuesday. The coronavirus pandemic has killed 239 and infected over 7,400 in India.
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"The decision to continue the lockdown should be taken on a national level," Mr Kejriwal said. "If the states decide the length of the lockdown on their own, then the fight against the coronavirus won't be effective," said the Chief Minister of Delhi, from where the third-highest number of coronavirus infection has been reported, after Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. "If the lockdown is eased, all kinds of transport, either rail or road, should not be allowed," Mr Kejriwal said.
The Health Ministry gave a presentation during the video conference. Then one by one the chief ministers spoke with PM Modi. Many of them suggested that the lockdown should be uniformly enforced across the country to maximise its effectiveness, instead of states taking a call on their own.
All the non-BJP chief ministers asked about central package to deal with COVID-19. They asked how long they could keep migrants in their states as they want to return home, sources said.
The centre last week said people can use homemade, reusable cloth mask as an alternative to retail ones. A set of two pieces would be ideal - one can be washed while the other is in use. PM Modi's gesture today was seen as sending that message across.
Odisha and Punjab have already announced an extension of the lockdown. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said the pandemic that originated from China in December "is the biggest threat that the human race has faced in more than a century". "Life will not be the same ever," Mr Patnaik said on Thursday.
The Bihar government in a letter to the centre has raised no objection to extending the lockdown; however, it wants an exception for rural construction and flood relief work to continue, sources have told NDTV. Bihar saw massive floods last year and rebuilding projects are still going on.
In his last video conference with chief ministers on April 2, PM Modi said the centre and states must have a common plan to ensure staggered movement of people after the national lockdown ends. He said it "can't be business as usual" after the lockdown and certain safeguards would have to be taken, according to a government statement.
Sources say the lockdown may be extended but with many changes this time around. Interstate movement will remain restricted, except for essential services. Schools, colleges and religious institutions are likely to stay closed.
Given the massive economic fallout of the prolonged shutdown, some sector specific relaxation is likely to be allowed, sources say, with social distancing norms.
Other countries that have experimented with easing lockdowns in a staggered manner have been cautious about re-emergence of the novel coronavirus in areas declared free of COVID-19.