The Centre on Tuesday urged the media to not speculate about the extension of the nationwide lockdown until an official decision is announced. The 21-day lockdown is set to end next week on April 15, but several chief ministers have called for an extension or only a partial lifting of restrictions, saying that it will be difficult to tackle the coronavirus epidemic otherwise.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has faced criticism for ordering the lockdown with barely four hours’ notice, is due to make a decision this week about whether to extend it or not.
Addressing a daily press briefing, Joint Health Secretary Lav Agarwal said any speculation will create confusion. “All this is related to social media discussion,” he added. “Supreme Court has already instructed that unless its authentic information, it can create confusion among the public. Whatever decision we take based on the available facts, we will bring it to your notice. Unless it is officially communicated, I request you to not speculate about it.”
Agarwal said the Cabinet secretary has already issued a clarification denying the extension of the lockdown. “It is true that states are asking for an extension, as and when decision is taken after discussions, I will let you know,” he added.
The joint health secretary also cited a study, according to which one Covid-19 patient can pass on the infection to 406 people in 30 days if preventive measures, including social distancing, are not taken. The study assumed that an average Covid-19 patient is likely to pass on the infection to 2.5 others, Agarwal said.
Earlier in the day, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said that the lockdown cannot be withdrawn in one go and can only be lifted in phases. He said a decision on withdrawing the lockdown will be taken after inputs from the state’s Covid-19 task force.
In Karnataka, Medical Education Minister K Sudhakar also said that it should be lifted in a phased manner. “Where there are red alerts and zones, those zones, in my opinion, should continue to be in a lockdown situation at least for two weeks...till this month-end, I will request them [the Centre] to do this,” he added.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said the lockdown might be extended if needed. “We will take a decision after analysing the circumstances,” he said in a video statement. “Lives of people are more important. We can tolerate lockdown. We can resurrect the economy later on but can’t be able to bring back lives of people.”
On Monday, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao said the country could take the hit to the economy but it was more important to save lives. Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and Chattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel have also said they would like to keep the state borders sealed or allow only restricted entry while they dealt with the infections.
On Monday, Maharashtra’s Health Minister Rajesh Tope said people must not remain under the impression that the lockdown will be lifted at the end of the 21-day period, which started on March 25.
Meanwhile, Agarwal again urged the media not to speculate when questioned about what led India to lift the suspension on the export of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. India rescinded its suspension of the export of drugs hours after United States President Donald Trump warned of retaliation.
The health secretary said that Indian Railways has prepared 40,000 isolation beds in 2,500 coaches to meet exigencies. “The target is to convert 375 coaches into isolation coaches every day, the work is going on at 133 locations across the country,” Agarwal added.
Raman R Gangakhedkar, head of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases Division of the ICMR, said 1,07,006 tests have been conducted so far. “Currently, 136 government labs are working and 59 private labs have been given permission,” he added.
India has so far recorded 4,421 coronavirus cases and 114 deaths, the health ministry said.