Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to citizens to stay home and avoid panic buying, even as India outlined plans to halt all international flights and rushed to stem the spread of coronavirus cases in the country.
In a late night address to the nation on Thursday, Modi said people should leave “their homes only if essential” and he asked the nation to self-observe an all-day curfew on Sunday.
Modi’s plea came shortly after India said it plans to halt any incoming international flights from landing in the country as of 2001 GMT on March 22.
Modi also urged Indians to stop panic buying and assured them there would be no shortage of essential goods.
His appeal came as retailers said they were struggling to keep up with demand as consumers rush to stockpile supplies.
Densely populated South Asia has so far been relatively unscathed compared to many other parts of the world.
But new COVID-19 cases in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are all accelerating, with the total across the region nearing 700. Six people have died.
Authorities worry that these countries could be especially at risk should the virus begin to spread locally, due to poor health facilities and infrastructure.
The spread of the virus continued to rattle markets across the region. The Indian and Sri Lankan currencies both fell to a record lows against the dollar on Thursday, while Pakistan’s main stock index hit its lowest level in five years.
“The pandemic has severely affected the economy,” said Modi, adding that he has set up a task force to assess the impact.