Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India on Tuesday announced announced “a total ban of coming out of your homes” for the nation of 1.3 billion. The ban follows several similar bans adopted by Indian states and arrives as the country confirms more than 500 cases of COVID-19 as well as 10 deaths.
The ban will mean a total lockdown for the country in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. The Prime Minister said the lockdown would start at midnight local time for a minimum of 21 days and will apply to the entire country. He also warned the country that “to save India, to save it every citizen, you, your family … every street, every neighbourhood is being put under lockdown” and that if India does not “handle these 21 days well, then our country … will go backwards by 21 years.” The 21-day cycle is recommended internationally as the best possible measure to break the cycle of infection.
The announcement will cause the mandated closure of all non-essential businesses throughout the country. This includes shops, commercial establishments, factories, workshops, offices, markets, and places of worship. Public transportation will also be suspended. Modi also recognized that there would be a sharp economic burden on the country as a result of the closure, but made it clear that the health and safety of the nation’s citizens come first.
Controversially, the government has used this ban to justify clearing a months-long sit-in in New Delhi on the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act. The act, which was passed by India’s parliament in December, fast tracks citizens for non-Muslim illegal immigrants from three neighboring countries. The government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), says this will give sanctuary to people fleeing religious persecution. Critics say the bill is part of a BJP agenda to marginalize the Muslim population in the country. Police cleared around 50 protesters that have camped out for more than 100 days. Police also reportedly arrested nine of the protestors after they failed to comply with orders to disperse.
The ban also follows a largely unsuccessful single day test ban. That ban was accompanied by a suggestion that residents cheer public health servants from their balconies while complying with the ban. Unfortunately, his comments were widely misinterpreted, and many members of the public took to the streets to celebrate health care workers. The Prime Minister was subsequently forced to condemn the public’s actions and sharply remind the country of their civic duty to participate in social distancing.