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NEW DELHI - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned the country about complacency in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic in a Sunday radio address and appealed to people to strictly comply with a nationwide lockdown that has been in effect for over a month.
He stressed the need to sustain India's "people-driven" war against the coronavirus.
The prime minister, a popular leader in country of 1.3 billion people, urged Indians to wear masks, follow social distancing norms and avoid spitting in public places calling these measures "the biggest medicine to fight this disease in the days to come."
The message comes as India takes tiny steps to restart the economy, raising worries that this may cause a spike in coronavirus cases. It is also seen as targeted at areas which remain unaffected by the virus - most of India's infections are racing through densely packed cities while its vast countryside is largely unaffected.
Modi said people should "not be trapped into over-confidence and nurse the belief that in our city, in our village, in our streets, in our office, coronavirus has not reached and that is why it will not reach."
Indians have so far adhered zealously to the calls for a stringent lockdown as the dreaded infection spread a wave of fear. Several neighborhoods in cities have imposed their own strict guidelines while volunteer squads in many villages do not allow outsiders to come in.
Whether such strict compliance will continue remains to be seen as the country begins to unlock on Saturday it allowed shops in rural areas and neighborhood stores in cities to open. Farm based businesses and some factories restarted earlier this week.
However not everyone is rushing to open their shutters and some traders remain wary about doing business while the infection is still raging. "Many shop owners told me they may not open immediately because customers are unlikely to come, so why should we expose ourselves," according to Praveen Khandelwal, the Secretary- General of the Confederation of All India Traders. "It will take time for them to pick up confidence."
But as calls grow to open up more sectors of the economy, specially from big business, the government is expected to draw up a strategy on Monday about how it plans to exit the lockdown that is due to end on May 3.
India saw its biggest spike in cases of coronavirus infections on Saturday with nearly 2,000 new cases taking the nation's total to about 26,500. 824 people have died.
Although those numbers are modest compared to many countries, many fear they may not reflect the accurate spread of the infection because testing has been limited so far and is only now being ramped up in areas that are "hotspots."