New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown until May 3, with a close scrutiny of how well the closure is observed across the country for a week and possible relaxations in those areas that do well after April 20. He said utmost vigilance has to be maintained to ensure that hotspots don’t proliferate and the disease is controlled in such enclaves.

“Until April 20, every town, every police station, every district, every state will be evaluated on how much the lockdown is being followed. The extent to which the region has protected itself from coronavirus will be noted,” he said in his address to the nation on Tuesday morning. “Areas that will succeed in this litmus test, which will not be in the hotspot category, and will have less likelihood to turn into a hotspot, may be allowed to open up select necessary activities from April 20.”

However, this relaxation could be withdrawn if lockdown rules are broken, he warned.

Exit Guidance Will Help: Industry

Detailed guidelines on the process will be issued by the government on April 15. The PM appealed to businesses to be compassionate toward employees and not deprive them of their livelihood.

“The provision of this limited exemption in identified areas after April 20 has been done keeping in mind the livelihood of our poor brothers and sisters,” Modi said, indicating a possible resumption of some economic activity at that time. “Those who earn daily, make ends meet with daily income, they are my family… Their interests have also been taken care of while making the new guidelines.”

Domestic and international flights and passenger trains will remain suspended until May 3. Modi said the central and state governments are working together to minimise the problems faced by farmers as rabi harvesting is in progress, implying that agricultural activity will go on unhindered.

Modi conceded that “from an economic point of view, the lockdown undoubtedly looks costly right now” but said that “measured against the lives of Indian citizens, there is no comparison.”

INDUSTRY REACTION

While the PM did not specify a timeline for resumption of business activity, industry suggested that the possible relaxation of lockdown measures provided an indication.

“Prime Minister has… provided a guidance on exit from the lockdown after April 20, which helps industry plan better,” said CII director general Chandrajit Banerjee. “The extension gives the government adequate preparation time to organise an orderly and safe restart of the economy as and when health conditions permit. Industry too can devise its strategies for commencing operations accordingly during this extension period.”

Ficci said it was encouraged by the Prime Minister’s decision that the country will continue to take measures to preserve livelihoods and bring the economy back on track.

“The Prime Minister’s directions on graded opening will help start some production activity to ensure that as soon as lockdown opens, there are no shortages faced,” said Ficci president Sangita Reddy. “Even in case of essentials, we are seeing that supplies have started to get impacted and so easing of lockdown may help ramp up production.”

HOTSPOTS UNDER WATCH

A strict watch will be kept on places that run the risk of becoming hotspots in the period up to April 20.

“The creation of new hotspots will further challenge our hard work and penance,” Modi said. “Hence, let us extend the strictness and austerity in the fight against corona for the upcoming one week.”

This marks the extension of the original three-week lockdown, which was to have ended April 14, to a total of 40 days as now. Delhi, Mumbai and other urban centres, which are hotspots, are unlikely to get any relief unless there’s a dramatic improvement, said people with knowledge of the matter.

The PM said the country has ample reserves of medicines, food and other essential goods.

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