India defiant as millions struggle under lockdown

The Indian government has defended its handling of the coronavirus outbreak after a strict lockdown – introduced with little warning – left millions stranded and without food.

The country’s response had been “pre-emptive, pro-active and graded”, it said in a statement.

India’s population of 1.3 billion was given less than four hours’ notice of the three-week lockdown on Tuesday.

Officially about 900 people have coronavirus in India.

However, experts worry that the real number of infections could be far higher. India has one of the lowest testing rates in the world, although efforts are under way to ramp up capacity.

There are fears that an outbreak in the country – one of the world’s most densely populated – could result in a catastrophe. So far 20 people are reported to have died.

People are banned from leaving their homes under the “total lockdown” measures. All non-essential businesses have been closed and almost all public gatherings are banned.

But there have been reports of long queues and panic buying as people struggle to get supplies.

After the lockdown was announced, people in Delhi and the financial capital, Mumbai, quickly thronged shops and pharmacies amid fears of shortages.

It prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to warn that panic buying would only spread the disease. He said the government would ensure there were sufficient supplies.

Meanwhile, millions have been left jobless and without money as a result of the shutdown.

It has sparked an exodus from major cities such as Delhi, where thousands of migrant workers are setting out on long journeys back to their home villages after transport was stopped.

One worker died on Saturday after he attempted to walk a 168 mile (270km) journey back home, a police officials told Reuters news agency.

On Saturday the Information and Broadcasting Ministry hit back against criticism that the measures were announced without planning.

The government had already put in place a “comprehensive response system” at its borders before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January, it added.

Several state governments have promised cash handouts to migrant workers, but there are concerns about the logistics of delivering the aid.

Uttar Pradesh in the north is also putting on buses to help those who have been left stranded. (BBC News)

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