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India Extends 'Total' Lockdown By Nearly 3 Weeks

The world's biggest coronavirus lockdown has been extended for 19 more days.

India's 1.3 billion residents have been under lockdown for the past three weeks. Restrictions were set to expire at midnight Tuesday (2:30 p.m. ET). But in a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that Indians will have to stay home through May 3.

India has counted more than 10,000 COVID-19 cases and about 360 deaths, as of Tuesday morning ET, though testing has not been widespread. Under the lockdown, all nonessential outings are banned; food shopping and medical visits are allowed.

Modi acknowledged the restrictions have been a hardship, especially for the poor. But he praised Indians for nevertheless following the rules.

"Because of your sacrifice, India has, till now, avoided the worst damage from the coronavirus pandemic. You have suffered hardships and saved your country," he said. "You have saved India."

Some restrictions could be eased after one week, the prime minister suggested, in areas that obey lockdown rules and don't see any new "hot spots" break out. This would help poor daily wage earners and those working in agriculture, he said.

The next week will be critical, Modi said.

The prime minister said that India has paid a big economic price by imposing strict rules, but that early measures appear to have helped India battle the virus even better than far richer countries.

"From only an economic point of view, it undoubtedly looks costly right now," Modi said. "But measured against the lives of Indian citizens, there is no comparison."

The fear is that millions could die if the coronavirus spreads through India's densely populated slums.

After Modi first announced nationwide restrictions on March 24, tens of millions of migrant workers were left unemployed, some of them homeless. With public transit cut, many of them got stranded in cities where they had migrated for work, and set off trying to walk — in some cases, hundreds of miles — to their home villages.

On March 26, India announced more than $22 billion in coronavirus relief money, including cash transfers and food subsidies. But economists say that unemployment has since nearly tripled and that a larger stimulus package is needed.

Modi did not announce any new aid. But there are reports that when the International Monetary Fund meets Tuesday, it may offer India $4 billion or more.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.