Anxious people made a beeline for grocery stores on Wednesday as the 21-day national lockdown kicked in from midnight shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced this unprecedented measure as the only way out to break the coronavirus transmission chain.
According to the latest Union Health ministry update the number of coronavirus cases in India rose to 562 while the death toll due to this viral infection was revised down to nine from 10 after the second death in Delhi turned out to be negative.
Two more deaths--the third in Maharashtra as well as the first casualty in Tamil Nadu on Wednesday--have not been taken into account in the all India tally though respective officials from the two states attributed it to COVID-19.
Prime Minister Modi in a nationwide broadcast on Tuesday night asserted in an emotional appeal "with folded hands" that unless India's 130 crore people practice social distancing, the country will lose the war against coronavirus outbreak and slide back 21 years.
Amid reports of panic purchase of essential commodities, the Union Home Ministry asked state governments to check the spread of rumours about shortage of food items.
In a communication to chief secretaries and DGPs of all states, the ministry asked them to take action to allay apprehensions and maintain peace and tranquillity, and inform people about the availability of food, medicine and other essential commodities.
According to reports from states, roads wore a deserted look but people resorted to panic buying at several marketS in violation of the advice of social distancing.
Despite a complete ban on large gatherings, people in some parts of Kolkata were seen jostling in markets to buy essential commodities for the next few days.
People were also seen queuing outside gas agencies to buy additional LPG cylinders in the wake of the lockdown.
In Delhi, several Mother Dairy outlets and local grocery shops witnessed queues to buy groceries.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said authorities will ensure essential services during the lockdown period and requested people not to panic.
"We will issue e-passes to vegetable-sellers, grocers among others to ensure essential supplies during the lockdown," Kejriwal said at a joint press conference with Lt Governor Anil Baijal, amid reports of alleged harassment of vegetable sellers by the police.
"We will ensure strict implementation of lockdown in Delh," Baijal said.
Union Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said the government is monitoring the availability of essential commodities in the market.
Paswan warned manufacturers and traders against profiteering during this period.
The Centre is also in touch with the state governments to ensure that there is no shortage of essential commodities, he said.
"In view of situation emerging from the threat of #Covid19India, the government is keeping an eye on availability of all essential commodities in the market," Paswan tweeted.
"I appeal to all manufacturers and traders to avoid profiteering in this situation," Paswan said.
The Centre also banned export of anti-malarial drug hydroxycloroquine with immediate effect to ensure sufficient availability of the medicine in the domestic market.
Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director General Balram Bhargava on Monday recommended the use of hydroxychloroquine for treating healthcare workers handling suspected or confirmed coronavirus cases and also the asymptomatic household contacts of the lab-confirmed cases.
The treatment protocol recommended by the ICMR-constituted National Task Force for COVID-19 has been approved by the Drug Controller General of India (DGCI) for restricted use in emergency situations.
Police across all states also kept a strict vigil on violators of prohibitory orders. On Tuesday, hundreds of people were booked and their vehicles seized for this offence.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat lent weight to the prime minister's appeal for social distancing, saying it is important in the battle against coronavirus, and asked the swayamsevaks to resolve to fight the pandemic and lead by example by following social discipline.
Bhagwat addressed the swayamsevaks on the occasion of 'Varsh Pratipada', or the Hindu New Year, by live streaming his speech on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's (RSS) website.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)