India says no plans to extend lockdown as poor struggle

Daily wage workers and homeless people eat food inside a government-run night shelter during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the old quarters of Delhi, India, in this March 26, 2020 file picture. — Courtesy photo

NEW DELHI — India has denied plans to extend a 21-day lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are fleeing Indian cities, posing a fresh risk of infection and the government is struggling to keep essential supplies flowing.

“There are rumors and media reports, claiming that the government will extend the lockdown when it expires. The Cabinet Secretary has denied these reports, and stated that they are baseless," the news agency ANI, Reuters’ partner in India, reported on Monday quoting a tweet from the Press Information Bureau.

Ruling out any government plan to extend the lockdown, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba said. "I am surprised to see such reports. There is no such plan of extending the lockdown," ANI reported.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered the country’s 1.3 billion people to remain indoors until April 15 saying that was the only hope to stop the epidemic. But the order has left millions of impoverished Indians jobless and hungry.

Earlier on Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi publicly apologized for the difficulties caused by his government's lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus.

In his address to the nation, Modi apologized for the hardships faced during the 21-day lockdown.

Modi said in his speech that the most affected and vulnerable during the lockdown were marginalized people stranded on the state borders of Delhi trying to get back to their villages.

"The battle with coronavirus is difficult and requires harsh decisions. I apologize for taking these harsh steps which have caused difficulties in your lives, especially the poor. I know some of you would be angry with me also. But these tough measures were needed to win this battle," Modi said. — Agencies