EXPLAINED: World’s largest lockdown in 2nd-most populous nation
New Delhi: After Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day national lockdown from Wednesday midnight, there was much confusion regarding its overall impact on citizens. Especially after reports of a second surge in panic buying coming in from the nation’s big cities, concerned citizens have been inquiring whether they would be able to easily procure essential items like groceries and medicines.
Some went so far as to criticise the PM for not clarifying on this point in his Tuesday’s address to the nation. Others felt that this wasn’t possible as he (Modi) had a lot of ground to cover in his speech.
In a subsequent tweet, the PM urged citizens to avoid rushing to shops and stay indoors as central and state governments were working to ensure the supply of all essential items.
In a separate message, his cabinet colleague and minister of health & family welfare, Dr Harsh Vardhan also clarified that there was no change in the list of services identified as essential since the one-day shutdown observed on March 22 under Janta Curfew or people’s curfew.
Meanwhile, British brokerage Barclays has calculated the cumulative cost of the shutdown at $120 billion (nearly Rs 9 lakh crore) or 4% of the country’s GDP. So, what does the largest lockdown in human history imply for the world’s second-most populous nation of 1.33 billion?
EastMojo tries to broadly explain the lockdown’s immediate impact as well as penalties proposed against violators.
Essential services exempted
Shops, including those under the public distribution system (PDS), and selling foodstuffs, groceries, fruits and vegetables, milk and dairy products, meat and fish, and animal fodder are allowed to ply their trade. However, the government has urged such establishments to facilitate home delivery to keep the movement of people outside their homes at the bare minimum.
E-commerce majors like Flipkart, Grofers and BigBasket had temporarily suspended operations on Wednesday after reports emerged of their delivery executive being manhandled and apprehended by police in various cities. The firms have since resumed service after being assured by central and state governments of the safety of their personnel. Meanwhile, the state of Uttar Pradesh has commenced doorstep delivery of essential food items. Kerala, which has one of the highest numbers of COVID-19 positive patients in the country, has announced delivery of food items to poor and home delivery of mid-day meals to school students in rural areas.
Several Northeastern states have announced a series of relief measures. Arunachal Pradesh government will provide Rs 1,000 assistance to below poverty line (BPL) ration cardholders during the period of lockdown. Administration of the state’s Lohit district launched the MeeBuddy app to facilitate doorstep delivery of essential items and services, becoming the first state in the region to offer such a service. Mizoram has announced free food rations for poor households. Tripura government has directed all municipal officers to set up kitchens to prepare food for the homeless in the state.
Hospitals and related medical facilities including units engaged in the manufacture and distribution of medicines in both public and private sectors such as dispensaries, pharmacies, shops selling medical equipment, laboratories, clinics, nursing homes, ambulances continue to remain operational.
Telecommunication, internet services, broadcasting and cable services, and IT & IT-enabled services (ITES) have been exempted to encourage their employees to work from home. Similarly, the delivery of essential items like medicines and medical equipment is permitted through e-commerce portals.
Other establishments exempted under the category include oil & gas retail and storage outlets, power generation, transmission and distribution units and services, cold storage and warehousing services, private security services, and capital and debt market services as notified by the stock market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). This means that financial services firms will continue to function normally though most of their staff might be working out of their homes.
Banks, insurance offices and ATMs are open. And so are print and electronic media outlets, which means we at EastMojo will continue to keep you informed on the latest developments around the COVID-19 crisis.
Most government offices shut
All the offices of the central government are closed. An exception has only been made in the case of defence forces, paramilitary services like Assam Rifles and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and, public utilities like filling stations, disaster management services, power generation and transmission utilities, post offices, early warning agencies like the Meteorological Department, and the National Informatics Centre (NIC) that helps support the delivery of government IT services and some initiatives under Digital India.
Similarly, offices of the governments of states and union territories are also shut. Only police, home guards, civil defence, fire and emergency services, disaster management agencies, prisons, district administration and treasury, electricity, water and sanitation, and municipalities are exempted.
However, in the case of both the central and state government, there are clear instructions to operate with minimum staff, with most employees being given the option to work from home. So, if you have work with a government department, be prepared for some delay.
Transport services, hotels, places of worship shut
All industries other than those manufacturing essential commodities and production units requiring continuous processing will remain shut. All modes of transport air, rail and roadways remain suspended till April 14. However, the transportation of essential goods is permitted.
Hospitality services – except hotels, homestays, lodges and motels that are accommodating tourists stranded on account of the lockdown – are suspended. All educational institutions are shut.
Importantly, all places of worship are closed to the public with any kind of congregations or processions strictly prohibited. Therefore, for divine protection in these uncertain times, pray at home!
Entities exempted from containment measures are required to observe all necessary precautions including social distancing to prevent the illness from spreading.
Implementation of the measures will be supervised by district magistrates through the deployment of executive magistrates as incident commanders in their respective local jurisdictions. The overall implementation of the containment measures is their responsibility.
Action against violators
Legal proceedings can be initiated against those found violating the containment measures under provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Depending on the severity of the crime, punishment can vary from 1 to 6 months imprisonment and fine.
Action will also be taken against those found to be obstructing any government employee from discharging their functions or refusing to comply with the direction given by the central or state governments or district authority.
Those making false claims to seek relief or any other benefits consequent to the disaster from the government will be liable for punishment. Misappropriation of money or materials earmarked for relief work will also invite punishment.
Action will be initiated against those found to be indulging in rumour mongering leading to panic. So, be careful before you are tempted to press that share or forward option on that post on a social media platform.
Officials found to be neglecting their duties under the Disaster Management Act or violating any order made under Section 65 that involves requisitioning of resources, premises or vehicles in rescue or relief work will also be booked.
Tough times call for tough measures and the three-week lockdown is a major step towards restricting the spread of the dreaded illness. Caused by the novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), coronavirus or COVID-19 originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan after jumping from animals to humans. It has since spread at a rapid pace to infect thousands across the globe within a short period.
Compared to several developed nations, India had moved proactively to counter the spread of the pandemic. The countrywide lockdown is in the series of steps initiated since January at containing its spread. According to the government data, India had around 600 confirmed COVID-19 cases and reported 13 deaths on Thursday morning.