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States requesting Centre to extend lockdown amid growing coronavirus crisis

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Top government sources on Tuesday said “a lot of state governments as well as experts” were requesting that the 21-day lockdown be extended beyond April 14. The central government is thinking in this direction, the sources said, adding that there is no final decision yet.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said people must be prepared for the long haul. At a cabinet meeting, he had urged ministers to come up with a “graded plan”, which was seen to indicate a gradual rollback.

Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said a decision on extending the lockdown would be taken “in the national interest” and would be declared “at the right time”.

“We are monitoring the world situation every minute. A decision will be taken in the national interest. A decision in this regard will be declared at the right time,” Javadekar had said, adding that an empowered group of officials was assessing the situation.

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao is among those who has said the lockdown must continue.

“My personal opinion is that lockdown has to continue longer. We need to save lives, later we can save the economy,” said Rao, whose state has the fourth-highest number of COVID-19 cases.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot favoured a phased withdrawal of restrictions.

“We cannot withdraw lockdown immediately, it has to be done in a phased manner,” Gehlot was quoted as saying by a news agency.

The BJP-led Assam government also said it would support any proposal by the central government of a “systematic and scientific” withdrawal of the nationwide lockdown.

“We have consulted within the state on what should be the mode of withdrawal of lockdown. We don’t want that everything should be opened on the morning of April 15. We want it to be a systematic and scientific withdrawal of lockdown so that the benefits during the lockdown aren’t wasted in a single day,” said Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

A top official in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh had also said it would be difficult to end restrictions.

“When we open the lockdown it will be after we have ensured that the state is corona free. If even one corona positive person is left, it will be very difficult to open the lockdown and that is why it may take time,” said Uttar Pradesh’s additional chief secretary Awanish Awasthi.

PM Modi had on March 24 announced a total 21-day lockdown, which is supposed to end on April 14.

In the cabinet meeting, he said the government must work on war-footing to mitigate the fallout of coronavirus and ministries should prepare a graded plan “to slowly open departments where there are no hotspots”.

Last week, during a video-conference with chief ministers, PM Modi had asked for a plan for the staggered movement of people after the lockdown ends.

“It is important to formulate a common exit strategy to ensure staggered re-emergence of the population once the lockdown ends,” PM Modi had said, urging states to send their suggestions.

India has 4,421 coronavirus cases, including 114 deaths, until 9 am on Tuesday.

13 fresh cases of COVID-19 reported from Ahmedabad in 12-hour, Gujarat’s tally touches165