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PM Modi orders 21-day 'total lockdown' in India

People walk past closed shops in a nearly deserted wholesale market during lockdown by the authorities to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the old quarters of Delhi, India, March 24, 2020.
People walk past closed shops in a nearly deserted wholesale market during lockdown by the authorities to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the old quarters of Delhi, India, March 24, 2020. REUTERS - ANUSHREE FADNAVIS

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a 21-day lockdown of the world's second most populous country on Tuesday, following China's example to halt the spread of coronavirus that has infected tens of thousands across the world. 

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Modi, the powerful leader of the world's biggest democracy went further, saying nobody will be allowed to leave their homes for the next three weeks beginning midnight Tuesday.

 "To save India, to save its every citizen, you, your family... every street, every neighbourhood is being put under lockdown."

India has lagged behind other nations in the number of COVID-19 cases, but there has been a sharp increase in recent days to 519 infections, including 10 deaths, according to the government.

Health researchers have warned that more than a million people in India could be infected with the coronavirus by mid-May, prompting the government to shut down all air and train travel, businesses and schools.

Already health officials said the virus was spreading out of big Indian cities where it first appeared into the small towns that dot the landscape.

Alarm is growing across the region about prospects for its spread into impoverished communities and the ability of resource-starved public health sectors to cope.

"India is today at such a stage, where our actions today will determine our ability to reduce the impact of this disaster," Modi said, citing health officals and experts including the World Health Organization (WHO) for his dire warnings.

More than 377,300 people have been infected by the coronavirus globally and 16,520 have died since it emerged in China, according to a Reuters tally.

China's Wuhan where the virus emerged imposed a two-month lockdown which is only now being eased.

Across South Asia, home to a quarter of the world's population, authorities are scrambling to raise their defences as the virus spreads. 

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

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