The world’s largest democracy went under the world’s biggest lockdown Wednesday, with India’s 1.3 billion people ordered to stay home in a bid to stop coronavirus overwhelming the country’s fragile healthcare system.
Police used rattan canes to beat people into compliance as New Delhi’s typically bustling streets and train station were all-but cleared of people in an unprecedented move to try and slow the spread of the disease.
India’s lockdown exceeds even that of China – where an estimated 760million people in Hubei province were locked down in January after the virus ran rampant through the streets. Restrictions there are now being eased.
Announcing the lockdown Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that only essential services such as water, electricity, health services, fire services, groceries and municipal services will be allowed to operate.
India’s 1.3billion people woke Wednesday to find themselves under the world’s most extensive coronavirus lockdown – with police using rattan canes to beat people into compliance in New Delhi
A plainclothes police officer strikes a man over the legs for breaking a strict 21-day curfew imposed across India as the country attempts to slow the spread of coronavirus in Kolkata
New Delhi train station, one of the busiest in the world, was all-but deserted Wednesday morning as India entered the first full day of a nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus
A deserted view of the Delhi – Meerut Expressway which is typically packed with cars was all-but deserted Wednesday morning as India adjusted to life under quarantine
A policeman stands guard at a roadblock during the first day of a 21-day government-imposed nationwide lockdown in New Delhi, leaving the streets almost deserted
Policemen armed with canes stand guard in front of a blocked road leading into New Delhi during the first day of lockdown
All shops, commercial establishments, factories, workshops, offices, markets and places of worship will be closed and interstate buses and metros will be suspended. Construction activity will also be halted.
‘According to health experts, a minimum of 21 days is most crucial to break the cycle of infection. If we are not able to manage this pandemic in the next 21 days, the country and your family will be setback by 21 years. If we are not able to manage the next 21 days, then many families will be destroyed forever,’ Modi said.
The lockdown means that roughly a third of the world’s population – or 2.6billion people – are now living under some kind of restriction imposed because of coronavirus, half of them in India.
India has so-far reported a relatively small number of cases – 500 – compared to European nations that are reporting figures well into the tens of thousands, but there are fears that generally cramped living conditions, poverty, poor hygiene and a piecemeal healthcare system could quickly cause it to run out of control.
While police were strict at enforcing the lockdown in the country’s metropolises, there were fears that the lockdown could inadvertently cause the disease to spread to the countryside as migrant workers packed on to buses to avoid being locked down away from their families.
Meanwhile India’s colossal passenger railway system has come to a halt as officials take emergency measures to keep the coronavirus pandemic from spreading in the country of 1.3 billion.
The railway system is often described as India’s lifeline, transporting 23 million people across the vast subcontinent each day, some 8.4 billion passengers each year.
Two bus drive alongside on a deserted street during the first day of a 21-day government-imposed nationwide lockdown
A lone man crosses a typically-packed highway in New Delhi that was left empty of cars during India’s coronavirus lockdown
The streets of New Delhi were quiet Wednesday as India’s billion-plus population went into a three-week lockdown on March 25, with a third of the world now under orders to stay indoors
Just a few people and almost no cars could be seen moving through the streets of New Delhi on Wednesday
The BandraWorli Sea Link, in Mumbai, is left almost empty of cars on Wednesday under India’s new lockdown regime
India’s rail network, the world’s fourth largest, operates more than 12,100 trains carrying passengers and cargo along 67,415 kilometers (41,890 miles) of track. With more than 1.2 million employees, it is the country’s largest employer.
The lifeline was cut Sunday, leaving hundreds of people stranded at railway stations, hoping to be carried onward by buses or taxis that appeared unlikely to arrive.
The New Delhi Railway Station – usually populated 24 hours a day with railway staff, shops selling snacks and newspapers, passengers crammed into waiting rooms and indigent people sleeping on the platform – was barren.
As local governments tightened restrictions on movement, migrant workers hauling backpacks swarmed overcrowded trains across many Indian cities, an exodus among panic-stricken day laborers that sparked fears the virus could spread to the countryside.
Even more drastic measures have followed.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide ‘total lockdown’ for 21 days starting Wednesday, ordering one-fifth of the world’s population to stay in place.
Health officials have reported 512 cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, and at least nine deaths.
From India’s first documented case of infection, it took 50 days for the total caseload to cross 200. In the past five days, the number of cases has crossed 500.
A boy plays on a near-empty street during a lockdown amid a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in New Delhi
Residents are seen in their balconies during 21-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New Delhi
A man walks across a deserted road during the first day of a 21-day government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 disease
A motorist carries vegetables during the second day of lockdown imposed by the state government to curb the spread of coronavirus in New Delhi
Deserted view of the Kolkata Railway Station during the first full day of lockdown imposed by the state government to curb the spread of coronavirus
Buses seen parked inside a bus depot during the first full day of lockdown imposed by the state government to curb the spread of coronavirus Coronavirus Outbreak, New Delhi
A raft of lockdown measures had already been brought in by individual states, including sealing borders and restricting movement to only essential services.
The government ordered commercial airlines to shut down domestic operations from midnight on Tuesday on top of a ban on international flights to try and contain the coronavirus. About 144million people traveled on domestic flights last year.
Rail travel has already been suspended after thousands of people, mostly migrant workers, swarmed train stations to go home as businesses shut down.
Before Modi’s announcement today, officials had warned that people were not obeying government warnings to stay indoors.
India’s government has invoked a British Raj-era epidemic act giving it sweeping powers to contain the disease.
Nepal has ordered all land border crossings with India and China shut until March 29 in order to keep the contagion at bay.
The Himalayan nation said thousands of people, most of them Nepali migrant workers, had crossed into Nepal in recent days from India, believing their homeland to be safer.
Nepal reported its second case of the coronavirus on Monday, a citizen who had recently returned from France.
Some of India’s poorest people have already voiced fears about how they will withstand drastic public health measures.
The economic standstill is a particularly acute problem in developing nations where large numbers of people live hand-to-mouth.
Some Indians living in Mumbai’s sprawling Dharavi slum said they supported the clampdown, but wanted government support.
Taxi driver Shaikh Bahaduresha, 31, lived on Mumbai’s streets for two months last year, but moved into a small apartment with his new wife after they married in December.
But he now has no more taxi customers, which means he cannot afford food beyond rice and lentils, and will not be able to pay his rent, due on Tuesday.
‘I have no savings. My wife and I will be on the street again,’ said Bahaduresha as he waited in vain for a cab owner who he said owed him a deposit.
‘The USA is a VIP country, you can block it for a month and it’s okay, but in India you have to take care of the poor.’