India’s 1.3 billion people on Wednesday were under an immense lockdown to prevent an explosion of coronavirus cases as the government struggled to deliver essential goods and calm nerves.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered everyone indoors for the next three weeks, saying this was the only way to avoid a disaster and effectively shutting down Asia’s third-largest economy.
However, with less than four hours before the decree went into effect at midnight on Tuesday, crowds of people thronged shops to stock up on milk, rations and medicines even though Modi said these would be available throughout the lockdown.
Others including labourers and day workers headed home to the countryside from cities such as Delhi, many walking because public transport also stopped.
“My daughter needs allergy medicines regularly.
“The medicine shops are open but how do we reach there?
“Who wants to risk a run-in with the police? They’re beating people up,” Yash Goswami in the northern town of Moradabad said.
India’s tally of 539 cases and nine deaths seems tiny compared with those in China, Italy and Spain; although health experts have warned that the world’s second most populous country faces a tidal wave of infections if tough steps are not taken.
The lockdown came after evidence indicated it was spreading out into India’s countless small towns after a first wave in Delhi, the commercial hub 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.
“The only way we can save ourselves is by social distancing, and staying inside our homes.
“A little bit of inconvenience now will save so many lives,” Information Minister Prakash Javedkar said.
India’s population is even more densely packed than China’s raising the risk of rapid transmission of the virus.
In New Delhi, Modi met his cabinet at his residence, with ministers sitting apart from each other in a large room.
Edited By: Abiodun Oluleye/Emmanuel Yashim