India’s nationwide coronavirus lockdown, the biggest in the world, will be extended until at least May 3, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said.
The three-week lockdown of the nation of 1.3 billion people, which started at midnight on March 25, was scheduled to end at midnight on Tuesday.
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“From the economic angle, we have paid a big price,” Modi said in a nationwide address. “But the lives of the people of India are far more valuable.”
Address to the nation. https://t.co/26sVP2br5n
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 14, 2020
Modi said some restrictions in areas further away from infection hotspots would be eased on April 20 to help poor people dependent upon daily wages.
“Till April 20, each police station, each district, each state will be monitored closely to see whether the lockdown is being followed and if that area has saved itself from the virus,” he said.
“We can then decide on relaxing restrictions in those areas that are successful in this test, have successfully contained the hotspots and prevented new ones.”
According to official figures, South Asian nations have so far been relatively unscathed by the pandemic, with India reporting more than 10,000 cases and 339 deaths.
But with some of the most crowded cities on the planet, there are fears that numbers could skyrocket and overwhelm shaky healthcare systems.
Some experts have also said India has not conducted enough tests and that the true number of infections is much higher.
Several states, including Maharashtra – which has the highest number of cases – Tamil Nadu and Odisha, have already announced lockdown extensions.
India’s poor worst hit
But at the same time, the lockdown, with strict limits on activity, has been devastating for the economy – and for India’s poor.
Millions of daily wage labourers suddenly lost their jobs, forcing hundreds of thousands to make the long trek back to their home villages, hundreds of kilometres away, often on foot.
Some died on the way, while others were shunned by locals when they made it back to their villages. One viral clip showed a group of migrants being hosed down with chemicals.
Others have been stranded in cities in cramped, unsanitary conditions where the virus could spread quickly.
New Delhi alone is providing hundreds of thousands of free meals to help those for whom the lockdown means immediate hunger.
Farmers have complained of a lack of workers to harvest crops while the grounding of thousands of trucks by the lockdown have hampered food transport.
Farms, still the bedrock of the Indian economy, are heading into their most important harvest time of the year, when many villages earn enough money to finance themselves for months to come.
The lockdown, with strict limits on activity, has been devastating for the economy [Harish Tyagi/EPA]
Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das called the coronavirus an “invisible assassin” that could wreak havoc on Asia’s third-biggest economy.
The national restaurants association, which said its members employed seven million people, warned on Monday there could be “social unrest” if it did not receive financial relief.
The commerce ministry has also reportedly urged the government to consider restarting more activities “with reasonable safeguards” even if the lockdown is extended.
Even before the pandemic, the Indian economy was stuttering with unemployment at its highest in decades.
Some analysts have predicted growth could slump to 1.5-2 percent this year – well below the level needed to provide jobs for the millions coming into the labour market each month.
Modi’s announcement came amid debates in countries around the world on how to lift restrictions while avoiding a spike in new infections.
French President Emmanuel Macron extended a tight lockdown in France by another month, but Italy and Austria are reopening some shops, and Spain is restarting construction and factory work.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned against rushing headlong into lifting restrictions, stressing that only a vaccine can fully halt the spread.
People in a queue for free food distributed by volunteers during a lockdown in Dwarka, New Delhi [Satish Sharma/AP Photo]
China, India agree to disengage troops at disputed border |NationalTribune.com
The foreign ministries of China and India agreed in a joint statement on Friday that their troops must quickly disengage from a months-long standoff along their disputed Himalayan border. Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar met on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting…
The foreign ministries of China and India agreed in a joint statement on Friday that their troops must quickly disengage from a months-long standoff along their disputed Himalayan border.
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar met on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting in Moscow to try and end the dispute, the most serious in decades at the undemarcated border.
“The two Foreign Ministers agreed that the current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side. They agreed therefore that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions,” the statement said.
Separately, China’s foreign ministry said it would maintain communications with India through diplomatic and military channels and commit to “restoring peace and tranquillity” in the disputed border area.
Elaborating on the Moscow meeting, China said Wang had told Jaishankar that the “imperative is to immediately stop provocations such as firing and other dangerous actions that violate the commitments made by the two sides”.
All personnel and equipment that have trespassed at the border must be moved and frontier troops on both sides “must quickly disengage” in order to de-escalate the situation, Wang added.
“This deal is significant but on the other hand I am still cautious. Let’s wait and see what transpires in the next few weeks and months. That will be the crucial test,” said Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University in Bloomington, the United States.
This deal is significant but on the other hand I am still cautious. Let’s wait and see what transpires in the next few weeks and months.
Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University
“I think both sides have considerable reasons to de-escalate,” he told Al Jazeera.
“In the case of India, the economy has cratered in the wake of the COVID crisis and the shambolic handling thereof. And consequently India can ill afford to devote significant resources to the military at this particular juncture,” he said.
“The Chinese did not want it to become a major distraction as their economy is finally recovering, and they are focused on the November elections in the US.”
Speaking on the five-point agreement between the two countries, Ganguly said they would probably involve withdrawing troops from eyeball-to-eyeball contact with one another.
“They would involve reducing certain kinds of actual deployment of artillery and other weaponry along particular band of territory.”
‘State of puffing’
Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, quoting China’s foreign ministry, said the two Asian rivals “should stop viewing each other as competitors and work more closely as partners”.
The Chinese ministry, Katrina reporting from Beijing said, called to stop the “atmosphere of confrontation” and start to “cooperate and build mutual trust rather than suspicion”.
The Al Jazeera correspondent said that the Global Times newspaper however, experssed scepticism saying that the implementation of the agreement really depended on India being able to keep up its end of the bargain.
Katrina Yu quoting the Chinese Communist Party-run newspaper said: “Unless India followed through, this would be little more than what he called paper talk.”
“This tone is in line with what we’ve heard from the Chinese foreign ministry over the past few weeks and Chinese state media,” she said.
In an editorial published ahead of the two ministers’ meeting the paper accused India of holding a grudge over the 1962 war, and described the country as in “an unprecedented state of puffing”.
#环球时报Editorial: If India wants peace, China and India should uphold the LAC of November 7, 1959. If India wants war, China will oblige. Let’s see which country can outlast the other. https://t.co/O0EkXVACG8 pic.twitter.com/tdbOEvjVUQ
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) September 10, 2020
Wang and Jaishanka’s meeting took place after a border clash earlier this week when each accused the other of firing in the air during a confrontation on their border in the western Himalayas, a violation of long-held protocols on the use of firearms on the sensitive frontier.
The Chinese ministry said the two countries reached the five-point consensus on reducing tension in the area including the need to abide by existing agreements to ensure peace.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Friday said it hoped China and India would find a solution as soon as possible to de-escalate renewed tensions, the Interfax news agency said.
The breakthrough comes a week after India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe met on the sidelines of another SCO meet, also in Moscow. Interestingly, in that meeting, Wei reportedly told Singh that Beijing would not cede an “inch of its territory”.
“So far, there has been a welcome of the five point agreement between the foreign ministers but on the Indian side everybody is waiting to see how China actually reacts and how it will implement this on the ground,” said Ajai Shukla, a defence analyst from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Both sides have intermittently claimed troop withdrawal and disengagement but reports of skirmishes continue with heavy military deployment by the nuclear-armed neighbours.
India and China have differing perceptions of what constitutes the Line of Actual Control – the de factor border – that runs through disputed territory on their Himalayan border.
Tensions in the region have been high since May when India alleged that Chinese troops took control of its territory patrolled by Indian soldiers for decades in Ladakh region.
Mapping India and China’s disputed borders |NationalTribune.com
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India, China accuse each other of firing shots at tense border |NationalTribune.com
China and India have accused each other of firing shots on their flashpoint Himalayan border in a further escalation of military tension between the nuclear-armed Asian rivals. The relationship between the two countries has deteriorated since a hand-to-hand combat clash in the Ladakh region on June 15 in which 20 Indian troops were killed. Experts…
China and India have accused each other of firing shots on their flashpoint Himalayan border in a further escalation of military tension between the nuclear-armed Asian rivals.
The relationship between the two countries has deteriorated since a hand-to-hand combat clash in the Ladakh region on June 15 in which 20 Indian troops were killed.
Experts fear the latest incident will intensify a months-long standoff between the Asian giants that erupted in late April.
Beijing’s defence ministry accused India of “severe military provocation”, saying soldiers crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western border region on Monday and “opened fire to threaten the Chinese border defence patrol officers”.
“According to the Chinese side, Chinese troops approached the India side for negotiations, and then they say some Indian troops fired at the Chinese side,” Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu reported from Beijing.
“As a result, China’s military said it was forced to take countermeasures – although we don’t know what those countermeasures were, or if there were any casualties,” she added.
India denies transgression
New Delhi was swift to give its own account, accusing Chinese border forces of “blatantly violating agreements” and firing “a few rounds in the air” to intimidate their Indian rivals.
“It is the PLA that has been blatantly violating agreements and carrying out aggressive manoeuvres,” the Indian army said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Despite the grave provocation, (our) own troops exercised great restraint and behaved in a mature and responsible manner,” the statement said.
Al Jazeera’s Elizabeth Puranam, reporting from New Delhi said that, according to India, “China’s army was trying to close in on one of India’s positions – and that when they [China] were dissuaded by their own troops, they fired in the air”.
The countries fought a brief border war in 1962 but, officially, no shots have been fired in the area since 1975 when four Indian troops were killed in an ambush.
A spokesperson for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) gave no specifics and did not report casualties, calling on India to investigate the incident.
China’s western military command said the incursion occurred on Monday along the southern shore of Pangong Tso Lake in the area known in Chinese as Shenpaoshan. On the Indian side, the area is known as Chushul, where the two countries’ local military commanders have held several rounds of talks to defuse the tense standoff.
Zhang Shuili, spokesperson for the Western Theater Command of the PLA, said India had violated agreements reached by the two countries and warned their actions could “easily cause misunderstandings and misjudgements”.
India has deployed thousands of soldiers following deadly border clashes in June [File: Danish Ismail/Reuters]
China’s foreign ministry said Indian troops had illegally crossed the LAC and had been the first to fire shots. “This is a serious military provocation,” spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news conference in Beijing on Tuesday.
Late last month, India said its soldiers had thwarted the Chinese military’s moves “to change the status quo”, also on the southern shore of Pangong Lake, in violation of a consensus reached in past efforts to settle the standoff. In turn, China also accused Indian troops of crossing established lines of control.
Both sides have sent tens of thousands of troops to the disputed Himalayan border, which sits at an altitude of more than 4,000 metres (13,500 feet).
Their troops have had several showdowns since the June 15 clash. China has also acknowledged it has had casualties but not given figures.
Detailed border protocols in place for peaceful disengagement seem to have broken down since the June clash. India’s military has also reportedly changed its rules of engagement, allowing troops to carry guns.
Military commanders and diplomats have held several rounds of talks since July to reduce tension, but have made little progress to calm the border tensions.
Last week, defence ministers from the two countries spoke in Moscow on the sidelines of an international meeting – with both sides later releasing rival statements accusing each other of inflaming the showdown.
And earlier this week, an Indian minister said New Delhi had alerted China to allegations five men had been abducted by the PLA close to the disputed border in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.
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