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Pedestrians walk along near-empty roads during a lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus in Mumbai, India, on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Image Credit: Bloomberg

New Delhi: Three more people infected with coronavirus died overnight in India as the government sought on Thursday to improve basic services to 1.3 billion people locked indoors to slow the spread of the disease.

Streets were silent across India’s cities and towns on the second day of a three-week, 24 hour shutdown as people heeded Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call not to step out of homes except in emergencies or to buy food and other necessities.

Lines of people, wearing masks and some with gloves, could be seen outside small neighbourhood shops in Delhi and Mumbai, among other cities, Reuters reported.

Trucks were stranded at state borders and public transport was withdrawn. Police have strictly enforced the lockdown even though Modi said essential services would be maintained.

Ram Prakash, a shopkeeper in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area, said supplies of some essential goods had improved although bottled water was still a problem.

“We are still facing supply issues with a few things, but slowly things are getting better” he said.

The health ministry said the number of cases of coronavirus had risen to 649, of which 13 had died.

The numbers are still small compared with those in China, Italy and Spain, but health experts have warned that the world’s second most populous country faces a tidal wave of infections if tough steps are not taken.

Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO’s top emergencies expert, told a Geneva news conference that with the lockdown in place, India had a window of opportunity to expand testing, surveillance and quarantine facilities and said its success with eliminating polio was an example.

India lockdown 2
People look on as they stand in circles drawn to maintain safe distance while waiting to buy medicine during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spreading of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kolkata on March 26, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

“India got rid of polio by breaking it by breaking it down to the village level. All the way through the system, it broke down the problem, it went after the polio virus district by district by district by district. And India won.”

“If India does the same thing, breaks down the problem, puts in place the measures that are needed, then there is a way out.”

India has tested 24,254 people as of Wednesday, according to the government run Indian Council of Medical Research, a small number compared to the population.

Only recently has the government authorised the private sector and some nongovernmental research laboratories to run the tests for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Sonia Gandhi writes to Modi

Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi on Thursday wrote a four-page letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and extended her party’s full cooperation in the nationwide lockdown, but demanded protection aid/equipment to medics and health workers and implement its proposed Nyuntam Aay Yojana (Nyay scheme) to contain the economic distress, agencies reported.

“I would like to re-emphasise the urgent need to arm our doctors, nurses, and other health workers with personal protection equipment, including N-95 masks and hazardous materials suit (hazmat suits),” wrote Sonia Gandhi, while welcoming the 21-day lockdown.

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She also asked the government to implement the Minimum Income Guarantee Scheme, ‘Nyay Yojana’, proposed by the Congress which, she said, was the need of the hour.

She said: “Alternately, a cash transfer of Rs 7,500 to every Jan Dhan account holder, PM Kisan Yojana account holder, all old-age/widow/differently abled persons pension account, MGNREGA worker’s accounts, as one-time special measure to tide over the 21-day lockdown be considered.”

Shops selling essential commodities to remain open round the clock

Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal on Thursday said that all shops selling essential commodities in Delhi will be allowed to remain open round the clock to prevent crowding and rush by the people, IANS reported.

He further added that the police department has been asked to allow e-commerce companies to function in the state.

“Online service providers and e-retailers delivering essential services and goods to be allowed. All essential services shops can remain open 24 hours so that there is no rush of people,” Baijal said at a press conference which was also attended by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

He further added that the police department has finalised a list of e-commerce companies which will be allowed to function in the national capital.

Delhi Police suspends constable

A Delhi Police constable, who was posted at Ranjit Nagar Police Station, has been suspended for allegedly vandalising vegetable shops while enforcing the lockdown imposed to curtail the spread of coronavirus, an official said on Thursday.

According to officials, constable Rajbir was suspended. “Police personnel have been sensitised in this regard,” Delhi Police said.