PM says economy also important while fighting COVID-19
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said economy needs to be given importance too while fighting COVID-19 and asked chief ministers to plan for the way ahead after two phases of lockdowns end on May 3. He also cautioned that the danger is far from over, while Health Ministry said a record number of 60 COVID-19 patients have died in the last 24 hours.
However, a ray of hope emerged with authorities declaring that 85 districts across India have not reported a single infection in the last two weeks and five northeastern states have become totally free of the virus. The nationwide tally of coronavirus positive cases, in the meantime, rose to 28,380 with at least 886 deaths, but more than 6,300 patients have been discharged, pushing the recovery rate to over 22 percent, according to the Union Health Ministry.
Domestic rating agency Crisil warned that the "disastrous" lockdowns will lead to losses of Rs 10 lakh crore, as it nearly halved its GDP growth estimate for the current fiscal to 1.8 percent.
"Lockdowns are showing a disastrous impact on the economy and could lead to a permanent loss of GDP, unemployment and poverty, despite relief packages, Crisil said.
On the positive side, the Health Ministry said 85 districts have not reported a single positive case in the last 14 days, while 16 districts have not witnessed even one case in the last 28 weeks.
Separately, Union Minister Jitendra Singh said five Northeastern states — Sikkim, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura — are now completely coronavirus-free and the other three — Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram — have not added any new COVID-19 positive case in the last few days.
The nationwide tally suggested that some large urban centres are facing the brunt of the deadly virus much more than many other parts of the country with just three of them — Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad — accounting for almost one-third of the total positive cases in the country. These three also account for nearly 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths.
Amid indications that the lockdown might get further extended, at least in the areas considered as 'red zones' or hotspots of the deadly virus spread, speculation was also rife about some relaxations including for private cars and economic activities outside the highly-infected areas.
However, most people said public transport, schools and colleges and public gatherings including those for religious purposes might remain shut.
As the final week of the second phase of lockdown began, Modi conveyed to chief ministers that the country will have to give importance to the economy as well as continue the fight against the novel coronavirus.
In his fourth video conference with the chief ministers over the pandemic, Modi also underlined that the nationwide lockdown has "yielded positive results as the country has managed to save thousands of lives in the past one and a half months."
"The prime minister said that the country has seen two lockdowns till now, both different in certain aspects, and now we have to think of the way ahead. He said that as per experts, the impact of coronavirus will remain visible in the coming months," according to an official statement.
Modi said masks and face covers will become part of people's lives in the days ahead. He emphasised on the importance of the use of technology as much as possible, and also on a need to embrace reform measures. He, however, forewarned that the danger of the virus is far from over and a constant vigil is of paramount importance.
The first lockdown was announced by Modi on March 24 in a bid to combat the coronavirus endemic. It was later extended till May 3.
In the meantime, the country's apex health research body ICMR asked states to stop using the COVID-19 rapid antibody test kits procured from two Chinese companies and return them to be sent back to the suppliers.
Some states including Rajasthan had flagged issues with results given by these kits. Opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has alleged that some people were indulging in profiteering while supplying rapid test kits for COVID-19 to the government.
The Union Health Ministry, in its evening update, said there has been a spike of 1,463 cases since Sunday evening.
The number of active COVID-19 cases stood at 21,132, while 6,361 people have recovered, and one patient has migrated, the ministry said. The total number of cases includes 111 foreign nationals.
Among major cities, Mumbai alone has reported over 5,400 cases, while Delhi has more than 2,900 and Ahmedabad more than 2,100 cases. Besides, more than 200 have died in Mumbai, over 100 in Ahmedabad and at least 54 in the national capital. These three major urban centres also impact a significant part of the country's overall economic activities.
Of the nationwide death toll of 886, Maharashtra tops the tally with 342 fatalities, followed by Gujarat at 151, Madhya Pradesh at 106, Delhi at 54, Rajasthan at 41, and Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh at 31 each.
The death toll reached 26 in Telangana, 24 in Tamil Nadu while West Bengal and Karnataka have reported 20 deaths each.
Punjab has registered 18 fatalities so far. The disease has claimed six lives in Jammu and Kashmir, four in Kerala while Jharkhand and Haryana have recorded three COVID-19 deaths each.
Bihar has reported two deaths, while Meghalaya, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha and Assam have reported one fatality each, according to the ministry data.
According to the Health Ministry data, Maharashtra also has the maximum number of confirmed cases at 8,068, followed by Gujarat at 3,301, Delhi at 2,918, Rajasthan at 2,185, Madhya Pradesh at 2,168, Uttar Pradesh at 1,955 and Tamil Nadu at 1,885.
The number of COVID-19 cases has gone up to 1,177 in Andhra Pradesh and 1,002 in Telangana.
Andhra Pradesh's Chief Minister Y S Jagan Reddy asked people to take precautions to prevent the infection as he warned, "We cannot eliminate it, so we have to live with it."
While interacting with the prime minister, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani favoured a gradual lifting of the coronavirus-enforced nationwide lockdown.
Chief Ministers of Himachal Pradesh, Goa and Meghalaya favoured extending the lockdown.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, after his interaction with the prime minister, asked state officials to make specific plans for post May 3, when the second phase of the lockdown is scheduled to end.