New Delhi: "From midnight tonight, the entire country will go under a complete lockdown."
With these words, for the first time in its history, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday put the entire nation under a strict three-week curfew.
"Every state, every Union Territory, every district, every village and every locality is being put under lockdown," he announced in his second address to the nation since the outbreak of the global Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 17,000 lives around the world so far.
Modi stated quite explicity how seriously the country ought to observe this curfew and what would be the cost of acting otherwise. "Step outside the 'Lakshman rekha' of your house in the next 21 days and you will set the country back by 21 years," he said, adding that repeated studies and recent data by experts have proved social distancing is the only answer to breaking the cycle of the infection.
"No doubt this lockdown will entail an economic cost for the country but saving the life of each and every Indian is the first priority for me... therefore, I request you to remain wherever you are in this country," Modi urged his fellow Indians with folded hands.
"Jaan hai toh jahan hai (the world exists only when we live)," he said, recalling a Hindi idiom to stress on the significance of his appeal.
The lockdown will be like a "curfew" only but more stringent than the 'janata curfew', which the country had observed on Sunday, he said, adding it will have an economic cost but saving people's lives is of the paramount interest to his government.
While healthcare workers remain on the frontline to battle this disease, Modi appealed to Indians to stay at home in order to prevent the infection from spreading further.
"Do just one thing. Stay at home. Today’s decision of nationwide lockdown has essentially drawn a 'Lakshman rekha' at your doors. If you step out, you must remember that you will invite coronavirus to your homes... many families will be destroyed," he said.
At this time of crisis, Modi said the only focus for both the central and all state governments should be to improve healthcare facilities. He announced a special Rs 15,000 crore package to equip healthcare workers with the necessary protection, to train healthcare workers and paramedics, and to procure necessary medical facilities for ICU beds.
Modi expressed happiness with the manner in which the private sector, including hospitals and laboratories, were "coming forward to work with the government in these challenging times".
Modi also issued two crucial warnings in his address.
The first was against spreading harmful rumours and superstition flooding social media. To put an end to them, Modi said Indians should only trust health experts.
"You should also be cautious as knowingly or unknowingly many times rumours are spread. I appeal to you not to believe in such rumours and superstitions," he said. "It is necessary that the suggestions and directions given by the central government, state government and medical fraternity are followed."
The second was related to self-diagnosis. "I pray to all of you that if you suffer from any symptoms of this disease, please do not take any medicines without taking prescription from doctors. Any such carelessness can put your life in more danger," he said.
Assuring citizens that the supply of essential goods will not discontinue or be affected, Modi said the government is taking all steps to ensure a continuous supply.
Acknowledging that the poorer sections of the society were suffering the most during the ongoing crisis, Modi expressed pleasure at the manner in which the central and some state governments have united with civil society to help them.
"It is a fact that this unfortunate crisis has brought a lot of difficulties to the poor. The central government, state governments, social organisations and civil societies are working to reduce the difficulties of the poor," he said.