India has extended a nationwide lockdown until 3 May in an attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19, but is making some exceptions to minimise economic damage.
The restrictions were initially imposed on 25 March and were due to end today. A total lockdown will be in place until 20 April, after which districts with fewer cases of the virus will be allowed to restart some activity, prime minister Narendra Modi today said today.
The government plans to introduce colour codes, dividing districts into less and more risky areas based on the number of people infected. More details will be available tomorrow.
But the extension will continue to paralyze business activity for this month at least, sending fuel demand down by as much as 70pc from a year earlier and forcing shutdowns of refineries, petrochemical plants, LNG import terminals and other businesses.
Domestic and international flights and Indian Railways have suspended services until 3 May. The ban on air travel will cut jet fuel use by a forecast 90pc this month, industry officials said. The restrictions will also delay several energy, iron ore and coal mining projects because of a lack of materials and labour. Only power plants and coal mines are operational but utilisation has dropped as the closures of factories and businesses hit electricity demand.
The selective restarts could lead to more confusion because federal advisories are often only spottily implemented on a local level. Many trucks have been held up at checkpoints or forced off the roads since the lockdown was imposed, despite government orders allowing transportation of non-essential goods. And businesses in less risky areas may rely on workers or raw materials located in restricted zones, complicating restarts.
Several Indian states led by Maharashtra had already announced extensions of their lockdowns to 30 April. India's eastern state of Odisha become the first jurisdiction to extend its Covid-19 lockdown.
A surge in coronavirus cases has forced the federal government to maintain its restrictions. There were over 10,300 confirmed cases and 339 deaths in India as of today, with Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Delhi among the most affected, according to government data. But only around 200,000 people have been tested, less than 1pc of the country's 1.3bn population.
By S Dinakar