NEW DELHI, March 25 - Anxious people made a beeline for grocery stores on Wednesday as the 21-day national lockdown kicked in from midnight shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced this unprecedented measure as the only way out to break the coronavirus transmission chain.
Modi in a nationwide broadcast on Tuesday night asserted in an emotional appeal �with folded hands� that unless India�s 130 crore people practise social distancing, the country will lose the war against coronavirus outbreak and slide back 21 years.
Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in the country crossed 600 on Wednesday as authorities beefed up preparedness to fight the pandemic with a chain of hospitals of the Army ordnance factories and central paramilitary forces earmarking over 2,000 beds for isolation and treatment of people affected by COVID-19.
Amid reports of panic purchase of essential commodities, the Union Home Ministry asked state governments to check the spread of rumours about shortage of food items.
In a communication to chief secretaries and DGPs of all states, the ministry asked them to take action to allay apprehensions and maintain peace and tranquillity, and inform people about the availability of food, medicine and other essential commodities.
According to reports from states, roads wore a deserted look but people resorted to panic buying at several markets in violation of the advice of social distancing.
Police across all states also kept a strict vigil on violators of prohibitory orders. On Tuesday, hundreds of people were booked and their vehicles seized for this offence.
Union Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said the government is monitoring the availability of essential commodities in the market. He warned manufacturers and traders against profiteering during this period and said the Centre is in touch with state governments to ensure there is no shortage of essential items.
The Centre also banned export of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine with immediate effect to ensure sufficient availability of the medicine in the domestic market. � PTI