Massive lockdown in India

Top News | REUTERS 26 Mar 2020

India woke up yesterday to a sweeping lockdown of its 1.3 billion people but the order did not stop crowds of people thronging to stock up at grocery shops and chemists.

The country's tally of 536 cases and nine deaths seems tiny compared with Italy but Prime Minister Narendra Modi and health experts warned of a tidal wave of infections if tough steps are not taken.

Modi announced the three-week shutdown on Tuesday, some four hours before it came into effect.

Modi said essential services would be maintained and people are allowed out to buy essential items, but transport was off the streets in most places yesterday.

Some shopkeepers in New Delhi complained of heavy-handed policing because they had opened.

"There are no clear instructions and police are telling us to close," said a grocer swamped by people looking to buy supplies.

Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted: "Social distancing is the need of the hour."

The lockdown comes after evidence indicated the virus was spreading out into countless small towns after a first wave in Delhi, the commercial hub of Mumbai and other big cities.

That has raised the prospect of a cash-strapped public health sector being overwhelmed. India has just 0.5 hospital beds for every 1,000 people, compared to 4.3 in China and 3.2 in Italy.

But the consequences of shutting down the US$2.9 trillion (HK$22.62 trillion) economy will be far-reaching.

India, the world's main supplier of generic drugs, banned the export of a malaria drug that is being tested as a coronavirus treatment, saying it had to meet domestic demand.

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