Coronavirus: India defiant as millions struggle under lockdown

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Millions of people in India are struggling for food during the country's coronavirus 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.

Image source, Reuters
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Migrant workers have been queuing in their thousands as they try to get home to their villages

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.

Image source, Getty Images
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Police are enforcing the 21-day lockdown

Meanwhile, the virus continues to spread rapidly in other countries around the world.

  • The city in China where the coronavirus pandemic began, Wuhan, has partially re-opened after more than two months of isolation. People are being allowed to enter but not leave, according to reports.
  • More than 600,000 infections have been confirmed globally and over 30,000 deaths, according to figures collated by Johns Hopkins University
  • The death toll in Spain has exceeded 5,000, after it reported 832 more fatalities in the past 24 hours. Spain is the world's worst hit country after Italy
  • The US now has the highest number of confirmed infections at 104,000
  • South Korea says that for the first time it now has more people who have recovered from the virus than are still infected. It reported 146 new cases on Saturday, taking the total to 9,478 - of whom 4,811 have been released from hospital
  • Russia and Ireland are among the latest countries to bring in new restrictions to try to slow the spread of the virus. In Russia, shopping centres, restaurants and cafes have been ordered to close. In Ireland, people will have to stay at home with limited exceptions for the next two weeks
  • In the UK, frontline National Health Service staff in England will begin being tested this weekend to see if they have coronavirus