India Under Lockdown To Fight Coronavirus

Mar 24, 2020
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NOEL KING, HOST:

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given an address to his country. He announced he's putting India's 1.3 billion residents under lockdown as fears of the coronavirus spread in India. The lockdown starts at midnight. Lauren Frayer is our India correspondent. She's currently in Bradford, England. Hi, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi there.

KING: What did Prime Minister Modi say in this address?

FRAYER: He has just announced a total lockdown. He said that for the next 21 days, don't even think about going out. He said If India fails in the next 21 days, it could be set back 21 years. And here's a little bit of his televised address.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: He's saying there, quote, "this is to save India, to save every Indian. To save you, to save your family, there will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes." Now, this may be the most Draconian lockdown anywhere in the world so far.

KING: It certainly is dramatic. Let me ask you, though, wasn't a lot of India, big parts of India, already under some kind of quarantine or lockdown?

FRAYER: Yes, absolutely, it has been. India has a sort of federal system similar to the United States, where different states have had different rules. Mumbai, where I live, had a near-total lockdown. Grocery stores, pharmacies have remained open, but all other businesses, schools, trains, airports have all been shut. The capital, New Delhi, was under a similar lockdown, so have many other cities. But now this is the entire country, 1.3 billion people. And by the way, Prime Minister Modi says all steps have been taken to ensure supply of essential items. He didn't explain how people will get groceries if they're not allowed out of their homes for the next three weeks.

KING: That'll be a huge question on people's minds. A lot of countries, Lauren, that have done this are doing so because they've seen the number of cases just explode. But India, we've reported, you've reported, has relatively few cases. So why go this far?

FRAYER: Yeah, that's right. So the World Health Organization has said that the global battle against the coronavirus depends on what big, densely populated countries like India do next. India is the second-most populous country in the world behind China. And as you mentioned, it has had relatively few cases so far - less than 500 cases of coronavirus and 10 deaths in a population of 1.3 billion people. Officials say most of those cases are people who traveled abroad or had contact with people who have travelled. And so India's response has been to shut the borders, close the airports, and anybody who has travelled becomes a suspect.

I was in northern India last week, and police were going hotel to hotel looking for tourists from hot spots in Europe - places like Italy, places like France - and putting them, pulling those tourists into mandatory government quarantine. Basically, India wants to stop this from the community transmission phase. The fear is that if this virus spreads to, you know, hundreds of millions of people who live in slums with little sanitation - let alone hand sanitizer - it could kill millions and millions of people.

KING: That makes me wonder - developing country, what's the health infrastructure like?

FRAYER: India's got a fraction of the hospital beds, intensive care units of developed countries. Prime Minister Modi, in his speech, pledged $2 billion to bolster the country's health care system.

KING: NPR's Lauren Frayer covers India for us, reporting today from Bradford, England. Lauren, thank you so much.

FRAYER: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.