Amid questions on whether the national lockdown to fight coronavirus will be extended beyond April 14, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said people must be prepared for the long haul and urged ministers at a cabinet meeting to come up with a “graded plan”, which was seen to indicate a gradual rollback.
After the cabinet meet, the first via video link amid virus precautions, the government said a decision on extending the lockdown would be taken “in the national interest” and would be declared “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,” Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said, adding that an empowered group of officials was assessing the situation.
While the centre was non-committal, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao said the lockdown must continue.
“My personal opinion is that lockdown has to continue longer. We need to save lives, later we can save the economy,” said Mr Rao, whose state has the fourth highest number of COVID-19 cases.
A top official in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh went on record to say people may have to wait longer as the number of COVID-19 cases is rising.
“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,” said Awanish Awasthi, Additional Chief Secretary, Uttar Pradesh.
PM Modi had on March 24 announced a total 21-day lockdown, which is till April 14.
In the cabinet meeting, he 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, PM Modi had asked for a plan for staggered movement of people after the lockdown ends.
“It is important to formulate a common exit strategy to ensure staggered re-emergence of the population once the lockdown ends,” PM Modi said, urging states to send their suggestions.
Many believe the government may be compelled to continue the lockdown, but in a tweaked version, given the economic costs.
Unconfirmed reports suggest agricultural activities may be exempted, flights may be partially opened and a complete lockdown may be limited to virus hotspots.
The centre may also leave it to states to assess the situation and take a decision.
India has over 4,000 coronavirus cases now, including 109 deaths.