NEW DELHI: India's 1.3 billion people will go under "total lockdown" from midnight on Tuesday (Mar 24) for three weeks to combat the spread COVID-19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
"From 12 midnight today, the entire country will be in lockdown, total lockdown," Modi said in a national television address to the world's second most-populous nation.
"To save India, to save its every citizen, you, your family ... every street, every neighbourhood is being put under lockdown."
Health researchers have warned that more than a million people in India could be infected with the coronavirus by mid-May, prompting Mr Modi's government to shut down all air and train travel, businesses and schools.
India has found 482 cases of the coronavirus and nine people have died from the COVID-19 disease it causes but alarm is growing across the region about prospects for its spread into impoverished communities and the ability of resource-starved public health sectors to cope.
Already health officials said the virus was spreading out of big Indian cities where it first appeared into the small towns that dot the landscape.
"This trend is worrying as rural areas have limited infrastructure to deal with the outbreak," said a health official in the western state of Maharashtra who declined to be identified saying he was not authorised to speak to journalists.
More than 377,300 people have been infected by the coronavirus globally and 16,520 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
Across South Asia, home to a quarter of the world's population, authorities are scrambling to raise their defences as the virus spreads.
CRACKDOWN ON DELHI PROTEST
Earlier on Monday, police in the Indian capital broke up the longest-running protest against a new citizenship law, citing a ban on public gatherings because of the coronavirus.
Dozens of people, many of them women, had been staging a sit-in protest since early December on a street in the Shaheen Bagh neighbourhood, turning it into a focal point for opposition to the law seen as discriminating against Muslims.
Hundreds of police in riot gear surrounded the protesters and told them to leave, said Delhi's joint police commissioner D C Srivastava.
"It is a dangerous environment, with this coronavirus," he told reporters.