Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday announced the setting up of a COVID-19 economic response task force, to be headed by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, to gauge the economic impact of the pandemic and take suitable steps.
Sitharaman later tweeted she would meet the ministers of animal husbandry, dairy and fisheries; civil aviation; tourism; and micro, small and medium enterprises at her office between 3 and 7 pm on Friday. She said the meeting would “take feedback and assess the economic impact” of COVID-19.
The PM, in his address to the nation, appealed to people to practise social distancing and avoid public spaces. As a test case to prepare for future challenges, he asked them to observe a janata curfew — a self-imposed curfew —“of, for and by the people” from 7 am to 9 pm on Sunday.
Modi asked people not to resort to “panic buying” of eatables, adding that it would be ensured there was no scarcity of milk, eatables, and medicines.
In his nearly half-an-hour speech, Modi said the pandemic had already deeply hurt the economic interests of the middle class, the lower middle class, and the poor. He asked those running businesses, and also those in high-income groups, to protect the interests of people who provided them with services, and not cut their wages and salaries even if they did not come to work.
The PM said it was also time that people acknowledged the work done in the last two months by millions of doctors, nurses, hospital workers, airport staff, police personnel, railway employees, auto-rickshaw drivers, and even home-delivery people. Describing them as rashtra rakshak, or protectors of the nation, he said these people had stood “between the corona disease and us”. He said the country was thankful to these people, and requested people to show their gratitude for them at 5 pm on Sunday by standing on their doorstep or in their balconies and clap or beat a thali, while civic authorities could blare sirens.
The PM said it was time to exercise sankalp aur sainyam — resolve and restraint — to fight the challenge of coronavirus.
These were the only weapons, he said, to battle the disease. He said the 1.3 billion Indians should resolve that as citizens they would follow the advisories and instructions issued by the Centre and state governments. “Take a resolve that they will save themselves from infection and help others from getting infected,” Modi said. The only mantra, the PM said, was hum swastha toh jagat swastha (the world is healthy when we are healthy).
He said the second tenet to follow was sainyam, or restraint, where people should stay away from crowded areas and exercise social distancing. He said anyone who believed they would remain immune to coronavirus or nothing would happen to them, they would be doing injustice not just to themselves but also to their loved ones. He asked people not to step out of their homes for the next few weeks. He said apart from those involved in providing essential services, others should isolate themselves. Reiterating a health ministry advisory issued earlier in the day, the PM said he would request all those above 60 or 65 years of age to not step out of their homes.
The PM said it seemed that a perception had spread in the last few days that India had escaped the scourge of coronavirus and that everything was normal. “This thought process is not right. It is important for each and every Indian to remain alert. The number of patients with this disease had exploded after a few days in the countries which are currently battling this,” the PM said.