“I have been talking to chief ministers and the feedback from them and the district magistrates who are being consulted is unanimous that lifting the lockdown all at once is not advisable. I will talk to CMs again. But the sense as of now is clear that lifting the lockdown is not going to be possible. We have to take tough measures to enforce social distancing,” the PM was heard saying in a leaked audio clip of his comments at an interaction through video link with representatives of political parties. The PMO took strong exception to the leak, a first, of the clip but did not dispute the veracity of Modi’s purported comments where he said the situation in the country was similar to “national emergency”.
PM Modi said, “We are passing through a situation which is like that of national emergency and which
has forced us to take unprecedented measures from time to time. Your response to such measures has been positive in keeping with requirements of national interest. We have to take more tough measures”
Speaking against the backdrop of a debate over the tradeoff between containing the disease and bearing the economic costs of a lockdown, the PM said saving lives was top priority.
More on Covid-19
He also said international experts and global experience didn’t favour lifting of the lockdown. Significantly, the PM noted that leaders of all political parties had also spoken against removal of the curbs. “As you all have suggested, lifting of the lockdown is not advisable. The removal of restraints has to be sequenced and there cannot be one single exit plan,” he said.
The opposition leaders left it to the government to decide on extending the lockdown even as they called for mitigating strategies to address hardships due to the measures.
The interaction was, however, not free of controversy with parts of the video interaction being leaked and the PMO stating that this breached the sanctity of the discussions.
“Over the past few weeks, the PM has been consulting a cross-section of leaders and eminent individuals to forge a truly national and unified front against Covid-19. Selectively leaking the contents of such consultations, as seen today, runs counter to their spirit and objectives and is avoidable,” the PMO said.
The PM’s remarks came as some states strongly indicated that curbs will stay. Kerala has announced a detailed plan that includes not restoring mass transport links with other parts of the country. Goa announced that the lockdown will continue but later stated that the decision will be taken in coordination with the Centre.
The meeting took place in the wake of the growing conviction among experts, articulated by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), that social distancing was the sole bulwark against the rampaging virus.
Emphasising the importance of social distancing, Modi said, “The situation is changing on a daily basis, by every hour. Renowned experts and universities across the globe have struggled to get a fix on the challenge, and have decided to stick with lockdown and social distancing, the only option we have.”
Modi also elaborated on his remarks to the cabinet recently, where he asked ministries to make plans for a new normal where restoration of economic activity will need to be accompanied with social distancing and other measures and told the floor leaders that there would be a change in work culture and working style.
Several of the 15 opposition leaders, who took part in the meeting, were in agreement that safety of lives should not be compromised and relaxing the lockdown at this juncture was not advisable.
Hinting at a political consensus over lockdown extension, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who participated in the meeting, said, “Most people in today’s meeting favoured extension of lockdown but left it to the PM to take the appropriate step.” SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav also suggested that lockdown should continue till the coronavirus menace came to an end.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Satish Mishra (BSP), Ram Gopal Yadav (SP), Sudip Bandyopadhyay (TMC), Pinaki Mishra (BJD) and T R Baalu (DMK) were among those who attended the meeting. Azad urged the PM to implement the suggestions in letters written by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. He also suggested that priority should be given to PPEs for health workers.
Pawar said due to the lockdown, many problems had erupted. “It is inevitable to cope with the pandemic. However, there should be state-wise planning. You should also consider a possibility of selective lockdown, without compromising health and people’s livelihood,” the NCP chief suggested and also referred to the Nizamuddin incident saying the entire community should not be blamed.