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Coronavirus: Indian PM warns against flouting curbs

CHENNAI/NEW DELHI: India's Prime Minister yesterday warned citizens against flouting rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, as he extended a vast social security scheme until November.

Several Indian cities prepared to extend their lockdowns to combat the spread of the infection yesterday, with daily new cases in the country remaining close to 20,000.

"Ever since (easing of restrictions) started in the country, negligence in personal and social behaviour has been increasing," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a televised address, adding citizens were ignoring guidelines on social distancing and hand washing.

Under pressure for leaving the poor to fend for themselves early in a stringent lockdown that began in March, Mr Modi also announced the extension of a scheme providing free food grains to 800 million Indians, at a cost of around US$12 billion (S$17 billion).

The opposition Congress Party, led by Mr Rahul Gandhi, said the measures were inadequate, calling for direct cash transfers to the poorest in the country.

India reported 18,522 new cases over the previous 24 hours, according to federal health data released yesterday, down slightly from Sunday's record of 19,906.

With more than 550,000 total infections, India lags only the US, Brazil and Russia in total cases. More than 16,000 people have died in India.

The country today enters what Mr Modi has called Unlock 2.0, with many curbs on movement relaxed, though schools, cinemas, gyms and bars will remain shut. But some states have imposed their own lockdowns in cities with big outbreaks.

The north-eastern state of Assam, where the authorities are struggling with the impact of floods that forced more than a million people from their homes, ordered a stringent two-week lockdown in the main city of Guwahati to tackle the coronavirus.

Tamil Nadu state extended a strict lockdown for its capital Chennai by five days.

It also announced a closure of meat shops because of large crowds gathering there.

"It is a ridiculous move since meat is essential, along with vegetables and medicines," said IT employee Prasanna Kumar. - REUTERS

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