Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday made an impassioned plea to 1.3 billion Indians, urging them to stay at home to stop the transmission of the virulent Coronavirus (Covid-19) which has infected lakhs the world over, and killed thousands. Modi announced that India would go into a total lockdown from midnight, and the lockdown would last for 21 days.

In a half-hour televised address in Hindi at 8 P.M., his second within a week, the prime minister, with folded hands, said these 21 days would determine whether India battles the pandemic which has crippled several major countries the world over. Not following the lockdown could push India back by 21 years, Modi said. The nationwide lockdown comes after several states -- including Delhi and Maharashtra -- have, over the past few days, declared lockdowns or curfews with the death toll in India at 9, but the numbers of infected growing, and crossing 500 at last count.

Modi also announced an allocation of ₹15,000 crore for medical equipment, ICU facilities, ventilators, and training of medical staff.

Calling for absolute and total social distancing and stay-at-home, Modi said it was important to learn from the countries which were on the verge of tackling the spread of the virus effectively and where citizens had successfully adhered to the stay-at-home instructions put out by the governments. Modi also said that during the lockdown, the government would make every effort to ensure that essential services were made available to citizens.

“Today India is at the stage where our actions today will decide to what extent we can bring down the impact of this disaster. This is the time to strengthen our resolve again and again,” the prime minister said, adding that he was not making this appeal merely as the prime minister but as a family member of the citizens of India.

“Please do not listen to rumours, don’t be part of them,” Modi said in his address. “Don’t take medicines without consulting your doctor.”

The prime minister made it clear that this was a decisive phase of India’s battle against the pandemic, and the lockdown was a critical measure if India was to tackle the spread of the virus.

Modi’s address comes after his earlier one called for a voluntary Janta Curfew on March 22, where millions of Indians voluntarily stayed home. However, several cities also witnessed shocking scenes where at 5 P.M., instead of staying home to applaud the work of those involved in medical care and essential services as the prime minister had requested, several came out of their homes in large numbers and celebrated on the streets, thereby defeating the very purpose of the Janta Curfew. Various state governments began toughening their stance after this, with police also patrolling the streets of various cities and hauling up errant citizens for violating the lockdown.

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