New Delhi (Agenzia Fides) - It is urgent to take care of the poorest during the 21 days of total lockdown of the nation, imposed by the government until April 14, as a measure to contain the spread of COVID-19. Christian lay people say this following the announcement of the prime minister, Narendra Modi: for the next 21 days, 1, 3 billion Indian citizens, almost a fifth of the world population should "forget what it means to go out". The order to stay home for three weeks aims to prevent a public health disaster, he said, while as of March 25, the number of coronavirus cases has reached more than 469 infections and 11 deaths.
The government has already introduced rigorous measures to curb the local spread of the disease in a country where millions of citizens live in densely populated conditions with poor sanitation. There are currently only 40,000 respiratory supports in India. Over 1.8 million people across the country are being monitored because they have shown symptoms of the disease, or have been exposed to confirmed cases. It is feared that the low numbers of the infection are related to the lack of tests, given that only 17,000 swabs have been carried out so far. According to experts, the virus is widespread in almost all the states of India. "If we are unable to manage this pandemic in the next 21 days, the country and your family will be 21 years behind. If we are unable to manage the next 21 days, many families will be destroyed forever", said Modi in his message.
The lockdown will have a devastating impact on the 300 million Indians who live below the poverty line and survive on daily earnings. The Indian finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has promised the adoption of a specific aid package, aimed at those most in need.
In this context, Christians have appealed to the government to take care of the needs of the poor. "The lockdown is necessary, but it is unclear how the poor, the marginalized, will survive the day. Millions of poor people do not have refrigerators to store food. How will those families survive? How will they buy food and where will they buy it?" Mathew George, a Christian leader, tells Fides. George suggests activating a network of organizations to cater for the needs of destitute people, migrants, day laborers.
Father Augustine Singh of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar in the state of Orissa, in eastern India, points out to Fides: "These measures are for the well-being of the nation. We must cooperate and persevere. So, we have decided to stay home". And Michael Pereira, a lay Catholic, declares: "Now is a critical moment for our nation, we can pray from home, but avoiding the spread of this pandemic is of extreme priority. Let us all pray to the Lord to end the spread of the virus".
Sima Ranjit, a Catholic lawyer, adds: "The concern above all regards the survival for thousands of poor people and for those who live alone at home". (SD-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 25/3/2020)