Coronavirus: Light lamps to dispel the ‘darkness’, Indian PM tells citizens

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged citizens to switch off the lights in their homes and light candles and oil lamps instead on Sunday night to dispel the “darkness” of the coronavirus epidemic and look forward with hope.

In a video message, he thanked the country’s 1.3 billion people for contributing to the success of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

He said: “On the 5th of April at 9pm, turn off all the lights in your homes, stand at your doors or in your balconies, and light candles or diyas (oil lamps), torches or use your mobile flashlights for nine minutes.

“We will experience the superpower of light, clearly illuminating the common purpose we are all fighting for. In that light, in that lustre, in that radiance, let us resolve in our minds that we are not alone, that no one is alone.”

Mr Modi also appealed for people to stay at home and continue to adhere to the social distancing restrictions currently in place.

An earlier appeal to applaud those on the frontline of the COVID-19 battle was widely criticised after scores of people came out on the streets and celebrated the event.

In a video news conference, Pawan Khera, a spokesman of the opposition Congress party, responded to Mr Modi’s fresh appeal: “The country was expecting answers from the prime minister on the issues of shortage of personal protection equipment and on helping the poor and migrant labourers who were without food and money.”

In a direct message to the PM, he added: “The country was dejected today, people did not get any information they were expecting from you on critical questions.”

There have been more than 3,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus across the country, as well as 86 deaths.

The cases have been largely driven by a congregation of members of the Tablighi Jammat, a Muslim missionary group in Delhi.

In violation of the government restrictions this 2,500-strong group which included about 1,000 foreign nationals from Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the US and Kyrgyzstan among others had gathered at a complex located in a crowded area of Nizammudin in the city.

At least 647 among these so-called “superspreaders” have tested positive in 14 states.

Officials are still trying to find more people associated with the event.

The group’s leader, Maulana Saad Kandhalvi, and six others involved are believed to be in hiding and the government has launched a manhunt.

Their base has been sealed off and health workers have been disinfecting the dozens of rooms and quarters of the building.

It comes as officials recorded the first coronavirus-related death in India’s largest slum, Dharavi, in the financial capital of Mumbai.

The 56-year-old’s death has been linked to the Delhi group. Ten of its members had stayed at a house belonging to the victim.

A 35-year-old doctor who treated the man has also tested positive for COVID-19.

Dharavi, a slum with almost a million people living and working in a 2.2 square kilometre area, is one of the most densely populated parts of India. A spread of the virus there would put medical facilities under a massive strain.

India is midway through its 21-day nationwide lockdown. Only key workers are allowed to leave their homes. The rest of the population can only venture out to buy food and medicines.

The government failed to factor the very large migrant population comprising daily wage earners and contract workers. This informal sector forms almost 81% of India’s working population.

After Mr Modi announced the measure, tens of thousands of migrant workers crammed into buses or walked for days to get back to their native villages.

The government was severely criticised for an ill-judged policy towards migrant labour.

In a radio address Mr Modi apologised for the trouble caused, but said the lockdown was necessary to stop the spread of the virus and save lives.

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