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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the country of 1.3 billion people to observe a one-day "Janata (Civil) Curfew" at the weekend as he warned of looming danger from the coronavirus pandemic.
All Indians should stay at home from 7am to 9pm on Sunday, Mr Modi said in his first address to the country on the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
"People should not leave their homes or go out on streets or neighbourhoods," the prime minister said during a 29-minute televised speech on Thursday evening. "The self-imposed curfew attempt will be a strong symbol to show self-restraint."
India had recorded 223 cases and five deaths from the virus by Friday. The first case was detected in January. Worldwide the virus has killed more than 10,000 people since the outbreak was detected in China's Wuhan city in early January.
Mr Modi urged people to show patience and restraint in the face of the health threat, saying it endangered all of humanity and affected more nations than the two world wars.
India is not insulated from the outbreak, he said, and citing patterns seen in other countries that witnessed a sudden “explosion” in the number of coronavirus cases after a slow start.
“It will be wrong to assume that India will not be impacted at a time when several developed countries have been impacted," Mr Modi said.
He said there was no definite scientific solution or vaccine to counter the virus and urged people to prevent its spread through proper hygiene, self-isolation and restraint.
"If we think 'I won't be infected', you are wrong," he said.
Mr Modi also asked people to refrain from “panic buying” and hoarding, saying the government was taking steps to ensure the supply of food, medicines and essentials.
The prime minister's speech came hours after New Delhi cancelled all international passenger flight arrivals for a week. India earlier cancelled all tourist visas and banned flights from the EU, Turkey and other affected areas to control the spread of Covid-19 in the country.
Among other steps announced on Thursday were plans to allow federal government employees to work from home on alternating weeks.
Mr Modi's government has been praised for taking pro-active measures against the virus, including screening tens of thousands of passengers at airports. India has detected many positive cases with travel history and quarantined their contacts over the past two months.
But critics say the government has failed to build on this and was under-reporting cases.
Dr Anant Bhan, a researcher on global health, said Mr Modi was right to create awareness about the challenges posed by the pandemic but made no mention of any effort to increase the country's testing capability.
"His appeal to follow instructions on social distancing, follow public health measures and be ready for a possible long haul will hopefully reinforce existing messaging," Dr Bhan told The National. "The curfew seems to be a test run for gauging public reaction to such steps, which to be effective will need to be drawn out over many days, if not weeks."
But "it would have been good to hear more on what was being planned to increase testing and prepare infrastructure and human resources for a worst-case scenario," he said.
"It's important to see leadership at this time and I hope the PM, other ministers and state-level leadership step up for that regularly."
Mr Modi also asked people to cheer from their homes on Sunday evening in recognition of the work by doctors, nurses, airport staff, journalists and others working to control and monitor the virus.
P Chidambaram, a senior leader of the main opposition Congress party, said he was "duty-bound" to answer the prime minister's call.
"In effect, the PM has asked the people to wage the war against Covid with moral armaments," Mr Chidambaram wrote on Twitter.
Updated: March 20, 2020 04:26 PM
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