The central government is mulling extending the nationwide lockdown beyond April 14 to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic following requests from several states and experts, government sources said on Tuesday.
However, they did not indicate if a final decision has been taken on the matter, and Joint Secretary in the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Lav Aggarwal said that "no decision on extending the lockdown as yet (taken)", asking people to stop speculating.
India is currently under the 21-day lockdown since March 25, with only essential services exempted, to contain the fast-spreading virus that has claimed more than 75,800 lives globally and afflicted over 13.5 lakh people across 183 countries.
"A lot of state governments as well as experts are requesting the central government to extend the lockdown. It is thinking in this direction," a source said, a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked countrymen to be ready for a long battle against the pandemic and exhorted them to not feel tired or defeated.
Chairing a meeting of the council of ministers through video conferencing on Monday, Modi clearly indicated that the lifting of the lockdown in one go is very unlikely while discussing the modalities of lifting it. Modi also asked the ministers whether the restrictions should be lifted sector-wise or district-wise, a source said.
Reiterating that lockdown measures and social distancing norms need to go hand in hand, Modi also told ministers to popularise the Aarogya Setu app in the rural areas and grass root institutions.
Several chief ministers have favoured the extension of the lockdown in the country to contain the fast-spreading virus as the number of COVID-19 cases climbed to 4,421 and death toll touched 117.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said his government will extend lockdown if need arises, while his counterpart in Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot said the state cannot withdraw the lockdown immediately and it has to be done in a phased manner.
In a statement to mark two weeks of the lockdown, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu said the next week is "critical" for evolving an exit strategy as the data regarding the spread of coronavirus will have a bearing on the decision to be taken by the government. He also appealed to the public to abide with whatever decision is ultimately taken by the government and cooperate with the same spirit that has been evident so far "even if it meant to continue with some degree of hardship beyond April 14".
Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao on Monday had said he will appeal to Modi to extend the lockdown to check the spread of the coronavirus in the country.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary RK Tiwari had also said that "there is still time for the lockdown and we will review the situation and then decide" on lifting it.
Since there is no vaccine to fight COVID-19, the government has stressed that social distancing is the only way to check the spread of the virus. Lockdown is considered the best way to keep people indoors.
Inter-state travel by public transport, including trains and buses, is banned, and so is domestic and international air travel.
(With inputs from PTI)