‘Janata Curfew’, made in Italy
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appealed to the people to observe a “Janata Curfew” on Sunday as an isolation drill against the coronavirus pandemic, seeking to prepare the country for possible hardships in the national interest and borrowing an Italian example.
In a 29-minute address to the nation, Modi said the pandemic posed a “bada sankat (big crisis)” and announced the formation of a “Covid-19 economic task force”, sounding out a “huge impact” on the economy.
The Prime Minister said the task force led by the finance minister would get feedback from the economic stakeholders and take necessary steps in the near future. He did not give out any other details about the task force.
The 24-hour notice for the Prime Minister’s address had revived memories of the November 2016 note ban and fuelled speculation ranging from a “total lockdown” to the declaration of an emergency, triggering panic-buying of essentials.
Modi did not announce any such drastic step. He underscored that panic buying must be avoided.
No essential items, including medicines, should be hoarded, he said, adding that his government was working to ensure their supply.
As a preparatory measure for “sankalp (resolve)” and “saiyam (control)”, Modi urged all citizens, except those engaged in ensuring essential services, to observe the “Janata curfew” by remaining in their homes from 7am to 9pm.
Modi said the one-day drill would prepare Indians for “aatm saiyam” (self-control) in the “national interest” and for the challenges of the coming days, possibly signalling tough measures in the future.
He urged citizens to step out into the balconies or move to the windows for five minutes at 5pm on Sunday to applaud those risking their lives in the service of the common people.
“Paanch minute tak taali bajakar, thaali bajakar ya ghanti bajakar (By clapping, beating metal plates or bells for five minutes)” they should applaud those like the doctors and nurses engaged in serving people in these difficult times, he said.
At noon last Saturday, millions of Italians leaned out of windows or stood on balconies in the locked-down country to applaud health care workers caring for coronavirus patients. At exactly 6pm last Friday, there was a similar response across Italy to an online call to sing the national anthem or play it on a musical instrument. Some Italians banged pots and called out: “We will make it.”
Modi sought to impress on the citizens the importance of “social distancing” to battle the pandemic, saying this was the only way to escape the virus and remain healthy.
“There is no cure for this, so we need to remain healthy. We need to avoid crowds and stay home. Social distancing is critical,” he said, stressing that the virus posed a bigger challenge to humanity than World War I and II.
“If you think you can roam around as usual and feel you will not be at risk, this is incorrect; you are endangering yourself and your family.”
Modi urged businessmen and the rich to show compassion by not laying off or cutting the salaries of their workforce, stressing that the poor needed their support to protect their families.
The Prime Minister, however, did not say anything on how equipped and prepared the country’s health system was and what steps were being taken to meet the challenge of treating people afflicted with the virus.
Modi is scheduled to hold a videoconference with the chief ministers of all the states on Friday.