Global financial giant Goldman Sachs said Indian economy might see a GDP growth of just 1.5 per cent in the current fiscal. (Photo: PTI)
Dashing hopes of a complete exit from the ongoing lockdown in one go, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said the country is facing a "social emergency" like situation as well as serious economic challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which showed a sharp spike in the infections, taking the nationwide tally to over 5,200 with at least 149 deaths.
After an interaction with Modi via video conference, several political leaders said the lockdown might not be lifted completely after April 14 and they were told by the prime minister that the pre-corona and post-corona life won't be the same.
"The situation in the country is akin to a social emergency...it has necessitated tough decisions and we must continue to remain vigilant," the prime minister told the leaders, according to an official statement. He asserted that his government's priority is to "save each and every life".
"The present situation is an epoch changing event in mankind's history and we must evolve to counter its impact," Modi said.
PM INTERACTS WITH OPPOSITION LEADER
Interacting with floor leaders of the opposition and other parties in Parliament via video conference, Prime Minister Modi said states, district administrations and experts have suggested extension of the ongoing lockdown beyond April 14 to contain the spread of the virus. Modi told the leaders that the country is facing "serious economic challenges as a result of Covid-19, and the government is committed to overcoming them."
After the meeting, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said around 80 per cent of political parties suggested extension of the lockdown. The leaders were told by the prime minister he is receiving requests for extending lockdown and will talk to chief ministers and experts before taking a decision in the nation's best interest, Azad said.
Modi is scheduled to interact with all chief ministers on April 11.
"Prime Minister Modi made it clear that lockdown is not being lifted and also that the life pre-corona and post-corona will not be same," Biju Janata Dal leader Pinaki Misra told PTI.
UP SEALS HOTSPOTS IN 15 DISTRICTS
The Uttar Pradesh government on Wednesday decided to completely seal off coronavirus hotspots in 15 districts to stop to the spread of the infection, announcing curfew-like restrictions there.
The orders came as the state’s coronavirus count reached 361 with 29 fresh cases being reported. The state’s death toll went up to four, with one more person succumbing to Covid-19.
The news triggered panic buying with earlier reports wrongly saying that entire districts will be sealed off.
"People were buying 10-15 packets of milk, Noida resident Khusro Ather said, hours before the orders came into effect from midnight.
The restrictions in these pockets will be stricter than those under the lockdown already in place.
Unlike in the lockdown so far, people will not be allowed to go out to buy groceries. Officials said the administration will ensure doorstep delivery of items like vegetables and milk in these clusters.
Passes issued to allow essential movement are cancelled in these hotspots which will remain sealed up to April 15 morning, when the current three-week nationwide lockdown is scheduled to end.
In addition to the creation of these containment zones, the government said it is doubling testing for coronavirus about 1,500 tests will now be conducted in the state every day and will make wearing face covers mandatory for those moving out of their homes.
The identified hotspots include 22 clusters in Agra, 13 in Ghaziabad, 12 each in Gautam Buddh Nagar and Kanpur, seven in Meerut and four each in Varanasi, Sahanaranpur and Maharajganj.
There are three hotspots in Shamli, Bulandshahr, Basti and Firozabad, and one each in Bareilly and Sitapur. State capital Lucknow has eight major and four minor coronavirus clusters.
All supplies will be made at the doorstep and movement of people will be restricted, as when a curfew is imposed.
DELHI SEALS 20 HOTSPOTS
The Delhi government decided to completely seal off 20 hotspots. As the national capital reported a total number of 576 cases, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal held an emergency meeting with senior ministers and top officials of the Delhi government Wednesday evening and took a series of decisions to check the spread of the virus.
After the meeting via video conferencing, Kejriwal tweeted, Wearing of facial masks can reduce the spread of coronavirus substantially. Therefore, it has been decided that facial masks will be compulsory for anyone stepping out of their house. Cloth mask shall be eligible too.
Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, who attended the meeting, said strict action would be taken against those not wearing masks while stepping out of their houses.
Sisodia also announced the decision of sealing 20 coronavirus hotspots having small pockets of settlements and apartment complexes.
"Nobody will be allowed to enter or exit from these areas and the government will ensure delivery of essential items there, the deputy chief minister told reporters.
According to the government, the 20 hotspots include parts of Sangam Vihar, Malviya Nagar and Jahangir Puri that have been notified as "containment areas".
Government sources said some more areas are likely to be sealed on Thursday and that the measure will remain in force till the situation improves.
The New Delhi district administration has also identified Bengali Market as a containment zone.
NO CONSENSUS ON LOCKDOWN
A number of states also indicated extension of the lockdown, at least in the areas identified as hotspots of the deadly virus spread, while wearing masks or face cover was made mandatory in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Mumbai as also in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. Karnataka said restrictions can be lifted in unaffected areas and sale of liquor can be allowed after April 14 to help generate revenues to fight the crisis.
Separately, Uttarakhand and Goa joined several other states to favour extending the lockdown, while Punjab Government said it will take a call on April 10 on whether to extend the ongoing curfew in the state beyond April 14.
Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa told PTI his government is in favour of lifting the lockdown in districts which have remained free of the infection, subject to approval from the Centre. He also said the state intends to relax liquor sales, stopped since the 21-day lockdown was imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19, after April 14 in a bid to increase state revenues.
In Rajasthan, the state government decided to open mandis in a phased manner after the end of the 21-day nationwide lockdown, which entered its 15th day.
GOVT STEPS UP CONTACT TRACING, CAPACITY BUILDING
The government also issued an advisory against the labelling of any community or area for the spread of Covid-19, as also against disclosure of names or addresses of those affected by the virus or under quarantine. It also warned against targeting healthcare and sanitation workers or police.
In his daily briefing, Union Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said states have been asked to focus on surveillance and contact tracing as well as on building hospital infrastructure. "We working with a twin approach -- focusing on social distancing and then implementing containment measures," he said.
The Supreme Court also asked the government to issue directions for facilitating Covid-19 tests in government or private labs for free of cost. As per the latest update from the ICMR, more than 1.2 lakh tests have been conducted so far across the country.
CASES CROSS 5,200-MARK
In its evening update, the Health Ministry said the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country has risen to 5,274 and 149 have died. Earlier in the day, the Ministry had said the tally rose by 773 in 24 hours till Wednesday morning, the biggest increase in this time period.
However, a PTI tally of cases reported by states as on 9 PM showed 5,689 people having been tested positive so far and at least 181 deaths. More than 500 people have been cured and discharged.
New cases were reported from Maharashtra (including in Mumbai's densely-populated Dharavi slums), Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Jammu & Kashmir, among other places. Ladakh's Lok Sabha member Jamyang Tsering Namgyal said the virus spread has been successfully contained in the union territory, while Sikkim government said not a single case has been detected so far in the state.
CORONAVIRUS HITS ECONOMY HARD
In the meantime, the further adverse impact of the pandemic on economic activities was reported from various segments. Global financial giant Goldman Sachs said Indian economy might see a GDP growth of just 1.5 per cent in the current fiscal. The rupee plunged 70 paise to its all-time low of 76.34 against the US dollar.
Indian Railways, which was on its way till February to not just meet but surpass its freight loading target, will end 2019-20 with 15.7 million tonnes less than the previous financial year's 1,212.56 million tonnes, official figures showed.
As business has dried up due to the pandemic with operations having been virtually shut down, earnings from freight loading have also plummeted -- from Rs 1,25,354 crore in 2018-19 to Rs 1,23,225 crore in 2019-2020 fiscal, a loss of Rs 2,129 crore.
More than 14 lakh people have tested positive since the virus outbreak in China last December, while over 79,000 have lost lives. However, China reported no fresh case on Tuesday and the lockdown in its Wuhan city, where the first case was found, has been lifted completely.