India is considering plans to seal off coronavirus hotspots in Delhi, Mumbai and parts of the south while easing restrictions elsewhere as a way out of a three-week lockdown that has caused deep economic distress, officials said on Wednesday.
The sweeping clampdown in the country of 1.3 billion people to prevent an epidemic of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, ends on April 14 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to decide this week whether to extend it.
He told a conference of political leaders on Wednesday that several state governments had asked for an extension of the lockdown to cope with the outbreak. But he also said that India was facing serious economic challenges, according to a statement issued by his office.
Scenes of poor migrant workers and their families walking long distances on empty highways to their homes in the countryside after losing their jobs have increased pressure on Modi to reopen parts of Asia’s third largest economy.
More than 80% of confirmed COVID-19 cases in India, the world’s second most populous country, have been traced to 62 districts representing less than 10% of India’s landmass, according to government data.
These are concentrated in the western state of Maharashtra, home to financial capital Mumbai, the capital Delhi and the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Kerala.
Many parts of the country have not reported a single case.
Such a skewed geographical spread strengthens the case for a more targeted approach under which the affected area and its neighbouring district would be cordoned off, health officials said.
“To manage coronavirus, we are working on a cluster containment strategy,” said Health Ministry joint secretary Lav Agarwal, leading the effort to tackle the outbreak.