CHENNAI/NEW DELHI • Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned Indians yesterday against flouting rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, as he extended a social security scheme to November.
Several Indian cities, meanwhile, prepared to extend their lockdowns to combat the spread of the virus, with daily new cases in the country remaining close to 20,000.
“Ever since (easing of restrictions) started in the country, negligence in personal and social behaviour has been increasing,” Prime Minister Modi said in a televised address, adding that citizens were ignoring guidelines on social distancing and hand washing.
Under pressure for leaving the poor to fend for themselves during the early part of a stringent lockdown that began in March, Mr Modi also announced the extension of a scheme that provides free food grains to 800 million Indians, at a cost of around US$12 billion (S$16.8 billion).
The opposition Congress party, led by Mr Rahul Gandhi, said the measures were still inadequate, calling for direct cash transfers to the poorest in the country.
India reported 18,522 new cases over the previous 24 hours, according to federal health data released yesterday, down slightly from Sunday’s record of 19,906.
With more than 568,000 cases of coronavirus infections in the country, India lags behind only the United States, Brazil and Russia in the number of total cases.
Nearly 17,000 people have died in India – a low figure when compared with countries with similar numbers of cases – though experts fear its hospitals will be unable to cope with a steep rise in infections.
India today enters what Mr Modi has called “Unlock 2.0”, with many curbs on movement relaxed, though schools, cinemas, gyms and bars will remain shut. However, some states have imposed their own coronavirus lockdowns in cities with significant outbreaks.
In the north-eastern state of Assam, where the authorities are also struggling with the impact of recent floods that have forced more than a million people from their homes, officials ordered a stringent two-week lockdown in the main city of Guwahati to tackle the virus.
“We are witnessing a spike in local infections,” state health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said.
“There have been about 175 positive cases reported on Monday only in Guwahati, which is a matter of serious concern.”
The state of Tamil Nadu extended a strict lockdown for its capital, Chennai, by five days.
It also announced a closure of meat shops, due to what officials said were large crowds gathering there.
“It is a ridiculous move since meat is essential, along with vegetables and medicines,” said 30-year-old information technology employee Prasanna Kumar.