Use lockdowns only as last resort: PM to states
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday asked state governments to consider lockdowns as the last resort in the fight against coronavirus, urging people to adhere to Covid-19 protocols and maintain discipline to help the government save both lives and livelihoods.
Modi’s televised address to the nation came at a time when most states have imposed night curfews and restrictions on assembly and movement of people. Several big states, such as Maharashtra, have shut down commercial establishments and curbed attendance in office and some, like the national capital, have imposed lockdowns to arrest the second wave of infections.
But the Prime Minister asked the states to focus on micro-containment zones instead. “We have to save the country from lockdown. States should consider using lockdown as the last resort…if we all follow Covid-19 norms, there will be no need for a lockdown,” he said.
In his 20-minute speech, Modi empathised with the pain of those who lost loved ones to the virus, sought the help of children to publicise Covid-19 norms, asked states to look after migrant workers and hailed the country’s scientists and health care professionals. He also said the government was committed to increasing the country’s hospital beds and oxygen supply. The country posted 294,284 new cases on Tuesday, taking the total number of infections to 15.6 million. A total of 2,020 deaths were reported due to Covid-19 on Tuesday, the highest ever, pushing the total number of people who have lost their lives to the disease to 182,591, according to HT’s dashboard.
The Opposition blamed Modi for not taking specific steps to arrest the second wave of infections. “Shri Narendra Modi’s address to the nation was again today nothing but empty talk,” said Congress general secretary Ajay Maken.
A day after opening up the vaccine drive to all adults, the PM spoke at length about the research and development of indigenous vaccines and pointed out that the world’s largest Covid-19 vaccination drive started with two made-in-India vaccines. “Today, the cheapest vaccines are available in India,” he said.
Modi also touched upon the exodus of migrant workers from major cities to the countryside – a sample of which was seen in Delhi this week after the government announced a weeklong lockdown – and urged state governments to take migrant workers into confidence. “States should ask migrants to stay put. This will help gain their trust that they will get the vaccine and not be forced to stop their work,” he said.
For the first time, the Prime Minister also turned to children—who played a major role in making Swachh Bharat a success—and sought their help in curbing transmission of Covid-19 disease. “I want to say one thing specifically to my child friends. They played an important role in Swachh Bharat. Now you should create such an atmosphere at home that people do not leave the house unnecessarily without work or any reason. Your determination can bring big results,” the PM said.
He also asked young people to make small committees in residential societies, apartments and neighbourhoods to help bring Covid-19 discipline. “If we do this then governments will not need to impose curfew or lockdown,” he said.
The PM narrated how India improved its health and medical infrastructure to combat the pandemic last year. Acknowledging that demand for oxygen was very high in some areas, Modi said, the Centre, states and the private sector are all working to ensure enhance oxygen supply. “As soon as Covid cases increased, our pharma sector also increased production of drugs. Our drug production is higher than what it was available in January-February. Now production will increase even more. We are taking help from everyone to increase production. We are lucky that we have such a big pharma sector,” Modi said.
In recent days, several states have flagged a critical shortage of medicines, oxygen and hospital beds as a spike in Covid cases has overwhelmed the medical infrastructure. Modi said that oxygen plants in states, diversion of industrial oxygen supply, 100,000 cylinders and oxygen trains were being used to augment supply.
The PM tried to address public concerns over shortage and said efforts are on to quickly increase hospital beds. He said people shouldn’t give in to fear or misinformation and emphasised that India can defeat the Covid storm. He appealed to people to help the needy. “As a member of the family, I share your pain. The challenge is great but with preparation, commitment and courage, we can overcome this,” he said.
The Congress criticized the speech. “The Prime Minister addressed the nation in the middle of a full-blown catastrophe….however, he chose to relinquish all his responsibilities and put the onus of saving India on NGOs, youth and bal mitras. He put the onus of doing whatever little possible on state governments,” said Maken.
“Sub text of @PMOIndia‘s speech. Guys you are on your kind of on your own . If you are able to finally make it to the other side we will definitely meet again in some Utsav or Mahatsov. Until then all the best. May God be with you,” tweeted senior leader Manish Tewari.
“PM Modi’s address reads as an admission that Covid wave 1 centralised response, including national lockdown, didn’t work. Wave 2 response is now a state problem further decentralised to mohala committees. What a difference a year makes,” said National Conference leader Omar Abdullah.