India extends lockdown for two weeks, with some easing

The world’s biggest coronavirus lockdown will be extended for two weeks beyond May 4, the Indian government said Friday but with some easing of restrictions — including for alcohol.

The lockdown imposed near the end of March has caused misery for millions of workers in India’s vast informal sector and dealt a major blow to Asia’s third-biggest economy.

The home ministry said in a statement that in view of “significant gains in the COVID-19 situation”, areas with few or no cases would see “considerable relaxations”.

Air travel and passenger trains ground to a halt because of the lockdown and only the transport of “essential goods” was allowed, causing major problems as well as considerable confusion for industry and agriculture.

In particular hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers were left jobless overnight, prompting a huge exodus of people back to their home villages, many on foot, and leaving many dependent on handouts.

However the stringent restrictions have been credited with keeping confirmed cases of coronavirus to about 35,000 cases as of Friday, with 1,152 deaths.

But some experts have said the vast country of 1.3 billion, home to some of the most congested cities in the world where “social distancing” is virtually impossible, is not testing enough.

In addition, there are concerns that if the virus catches hold in a big way, India’s health care system — poorly funded by international comparison — will be severely stretched. (AFP)