DELHI and LONDON -- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Tuesday that the country would be imposing a "total ban" on Indians venturing outside their homes to combat the spread of coronavirus, in perhaps the largest restriction on the movement of people the world has seen.
Addressing the nation in a televised address, Modi said the strict lockdown was necessary to "save India and every Indian."
"From 12 midnight tonight, the entire country will go under a complete lockdown," he said. "To save India and every Indian, there will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes."
The prime minister said the curfew would be enforced for the next 21 days, as health experts had advised this was the most important period to counteract the spread of the coronavirus.
"Stay wherever you are in the country," he added.
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Prime Minister Modi also pledged a budget of $2 billion to be used to help treat the pandemic.
A lockdown was already in effect in several Indian states and cities, including the capital of Delhi, but the new measures announced mark perhaps the most sweeping restriction to ordinary life seen in any country since the coronavirus outbreak began.
While India is following the example of a number of other countries by enforcing a nationwide curfew, the sheer scale of the lockdown will likely prove difficult to police, especially in areas with especially high population densities.
India has so far recorded 519 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 10 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. However, some experts have warned that the country is set for a dramatic rise in cases, amid criticism that health authorities had not been testing people displaying symptoms widely enough.
With an estimated population of 1.3 billion people, it is the world's largest democracy. The prime minister maintained that social distancing was the only viable option to combat the spread of coronavirus, and that the three weeks of lockdown was "absolutely necessary."
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Despite not specifying if there were any exceptions to the curfew, the prime minister said the "supply of essential goods will be maintained" and his government will "be working to reduce the difficulties of the poor."
There were no indications of an economic package, like the type close to being agreed on in the United States, to help Indian workers throughout the shutdown in the prime minister’s address.
Experts evaluating the spread of the pandemic worldwide have long feared that countries such as India, with high levels of both population density and poverty, will struggle to cope with the coronavirus, despite a relatively low number of confirmed cases so far.
For a country of its size, India has an alarmingly low rate of physicians, with less than eight medical per 10,000 people, according to the statistics from the WHO. The United States, by contrast, has 26 physicians per 10,000 people, more than triple the proportion of India, according to the same statistics.
There have been almost 400,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus worldwide and over 17,000 deaths, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.