India's coronavirus lockdown has been extended until May 3, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an address to the nation. The initial 21-day lockdown was due to be lifted Tuesday.
Modi explained that the lockdown, as well as other social distancing measures, have benefited the country despite the economic costs incurred. He also said India needs to be "very vigilant" about hot spots.
"We will have to keep a close and strict watch on the places which run the risk of becoming hot-spots. The creation of new hot-spots will further challenge our hard work and penance," Modi said, according to an English version of his speech uploaded online by his office.
He added that until April 20, states, towns, districts and police stations will be evaluated on "how much the lockdown is being followed."
Areas that are less likely to become hot spots in the future may be allowed to partially open up thereafter, with caveats. If new risks of outbreak emerge, those permissions would be withdrawn, Modi explained. The government is set to issue a detailed guideline on this measure on Wednesday.
Modi thanked Indians for abiding by the lockdown despite the hardships many of them endured. He also assured that the country has sufficient reserves of medicines, food rations, and other essential goods. Modi said that supply chain constraints were constantly being removed.
Many states, like West Bengal for example, announced extensions to the lockdown before Modi's speech.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted about the decision on Saturday before any formal announcements were made from Modi's government.
A recent summary of one of Modi's meetings with all the state chief ministers posted by his office said, "The Chief Ministers suggested that Lockdown should be extended by two weeks."
Despite the decision to practically shut most of the country, coronavirus cases have sharply increased in India. As of 8 a.m. local time, the health ministry reported 10,363 cases of infections and 339 deaths, while it said 1,035 have been cured and discharged.
The initial lockdown largely affected low-income households and daily wage earners, putting many of them out of work. Most commercial and private establishments, including factories and small businesses, had been closed. Essential services including health care, grocery stores, banks and gas stations were allowed to operate.
To combat the sudden economic shock, India had announced a $22.5 billion fiscal stimulus package designed to help poor households through food security and direct cash transfers.
Experts say India's economy, which was already growing at the slowest pace in six years before the coronavirus outbreak, is set to take a major hit from the lockdown.
Priyanka Kishore, head of India and South East Asia economics at Oxford Economics, slashed her full-year growth projection for the 2020 calendar year. She said last week she now expects a 1% contraction versus an expansion of 4.4% predicted a month ago.
"This not only reflects the substantial hit to the economy from the containment measures that are likely to extend until the end of the second quarter but also India's inherent economic fragilities and limited policy arsenal, that will likely hinder a quick and decisive rebound in growth," she said in a note.