March 25, 2020 / 3:10 PM / 14 days ago

Factbox: India's challenge in locking down 1.3 billion people for 21 days over coronavirus

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi late on Tuesday imposed a three-week nationwide lockdown in a rush to contain the spread of coronavirus in the world’s second most populous country.

“The next 21 days are crucial for us...If we are not able to manage this pandemic then the country and your family will be set back by 21 years,” he warned. “This is in effect a curfew.”

However, many police and state officials across the country were left scrambling to come up with viable ways of enforcing a lockdown in a vast nation of 1.3 billion people.

Following is a rundown of key measures to be launched over the next 48 hours, and initial actions taken to overcome obstacles to an effective lockdown:

- Hundreds of security officials will work with food distribution teams across India to hand out masks, sanitizers, food packets, milk powder for infants and iron supplements for pregnant women.

- Over 10,000 people with motorcycles have been identified to make door-step deliveries of essential services in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which is home to about 17% of India’s population.

- In India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, and the southern state of Kerala, police were home-delivering medicines.

“My wife is a heart patient and my son is handicapped. I called the police and they delivered the medicines,” Sudhir Chandra Khanna, 75, said in Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh.

- While small stores will remain open, authorities want people to stay home and the government will start operating mobile food-distribution units in urban centers.

- India’s largest online grocery retailers are facing severe disruptions, forcing households to economise their food consumption amid uncertainty. “Every Indian should think before they waste food. Resources are limited at this stage,” said a senior official in the civil supplies ministry.

- An economic stimulus package of more than 1.5 trillion rupees ($19.6 billion) is due to be approved by the end of the week. The money will be put into the accounts of more than 100 million poor and support businesses hardest hit by the lockdown.

- Police in northern and eastern states threatened to prosecute young people loitering in the streets, and some were forced to do sit-ups in the road before ordered to go home.

- The interior ministry has identified 8,200 urban slum clusters where shortages of potable water and food could trigger unrest. “They are being treated as top priority. We don’t want food shortages to lead to riots,” said a senior civil servant.

Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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