Three more people infected with coronavirus died overnight in India as the government sought on Thursday to improve basic services to 1.3 billion people locked indoors to slow the spread of the disease.
Streets were silent across India’s cities and towns on the second day of a three-week, 24 hour shutdown as people heeded Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call not to step out of homes except in emergencies or to buy food and other necessities.
Lines of people, wearing masks and some with gloves, could be seen outside small neighbourhood shops in Delhi and Mumbai, among other cities.
Trucks were stranded at state borders and public transport was withdrawn. Police have strictly enforced the lockdown even though Modi said essential services would be maintained.
Ram Prakash, a shopkeeper in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area, said supplies of some essential goods had improved although bottled water was still a problem.
“We are still facing supply issues with a few things, but slowly things are getting better,” he said.
The health ministry said the number of cases of coronavirus had risen to 649, of which 13 had died.
The numbers are still small compared with those in China, Italy and Spain, but health experts have warned that the world’s second most populous country faces a tidal wave of infections if tough steps are not taken.
Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO’s top emergencies expert, told a Geneva news conference that with the lockdown in place, India had a window of opportunity to expand testing, surveillance and quarantine facilities and said its success with eliminating polio was an example.
“India got rid of polio by breaking it by breaking it down to the village level. All the way through the system, it broke down the problem, it went after the polio virus district by district by district by district. And India won.”
“If India does the same thing, breaks down the problem, puts in place the measures that are needed, then there is a way out.”
India has tested 24,254 people as of Wednesday, according to the government run Indian Council of Medical Research, a small number compared to the population.
Only recently has the government authorized the private sector and some non-governmental research laboratories to run the tests for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.