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Sunday Apr 05 2020
Web Desk

'Go Corona Go': India answers Modi's call to fight virus 'darkness' with lamps

Web Desk
Residents light candles and turn on their mobile phone lights in their balcony to observe a nine-minute vigil in Bangalore, India, April 5, 2020. AFP/Manjunath Kiran

NEW DELHI: Most of India's households switched off their lights on Sunday night after Prime Minister Narendra Modi advised his nation to fight the COVID-19 darkness by using diyas, or oil lamps.

Twinkling flames from candles and traditional lamps lit up India's night sky during the nine-minute show to mark the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, which has left the vast nation in lockdown.

Across major cities and towns in the world's second-most populous country of 1.3 billion people, many heeded Modi's call.

An arrangement of 'diyas' — oil lamps — shows the words written 'Go Corona Go' as people turn off lights in their houses after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi advised the country to switch off all lights of and light candles or 'diyas' at 9pm for nine minutes in in Ahmedabad, India, April 5, 2020. Twitter/ANI (@ANI)/via

On April 3, The Print reported that Modi had issued the bizarre directive to the Indian citizens, who then went on to post their activities earlier today under hashtag #9pm9minutes. Last month, he had asked people to bang pots and other kitchen utensils on their balconies and rooftops as a show of gratitude to medics and other healthcare professionals.

"To defeat the darkness of despair and light our lives with hope, let us switch off all lights for nine minutes at 9 pm on Sunday (5 April) and illuminate our surroundings with candles, diyas, torch or mobile flashlights," Modi had said.

"Let us maintain social distancing during this," he had added. "We have to cut through coronavirus pandemic darkness and move to a brighter tomorrow."

Read more: Indian planes carrying aid gets warm welcome by Pakistan Air Traffic Control

During the lamp-and-phone-torch show, residents shouted "Hail mother India" and "go corona go". They cheered, clapped, and set off firecrackers and fireworks that shattered the quiet evening, in scenes reminiscent of Diwali — the Hindu festival of lights.

Residents light candles and turn on their mobile phone lights in their balcony to observe a nine-minute vigil in Mumbai, India, April 5, 2020. AFP/Punit Paranjpe

"Salute to the light of the lamp which brings auspiciousness, health and prosperity, which destroys negative feelings," Modi tweeted in Sanskrit. He shared photos of himself lighting a "diya" clay lamp.

In a modern touch, some residents turned on the lights from their mobile phones.

On Twitter, however, there were mixed reactions: hilarious, sassy, and of unity.

One user asked NASA when it was "releasing India's pic from Space".

Actor Anil Kapoor said this showed that everyone was "in this together".

Another user said their friend was "playing Antakshari from her building" another.

Concerning reports, on the other hand, also emerged with one claiming a "massive fire" had erupted due to firecrackers.

"Fire brigade just drove in. Hope everyone's safe," a journalist wrote.

21-day lockdown

India has been under a strict lockdown since March 25, with public transport halted and offices and shops closed apart from essential services. The move has badly hit rural migrant workers, leaving them jobless with hundreds of thousands trying to return to their villages, many on foot.

Many others have been blocked from returning home. The government has set up tens of thousands of makeshift camps and feeding centres for 7.5 million people.

Residents light candles and turn on their mobile phone lights in their balcony to observe a nine-minute vigil in Mumbai, India, April 5, 2020. AFP/Punit Paranjpe

The confirmed number of new coronavirus cases in India has passed 3,500 with 83 deaths, the government said, although experts say wider testing is needed.

The health ministry has blamed a recent jump in cases on a large religious gathering — the Tableeghi Jamaat meet — in New Delhi in March that has been linked to more than 1,000 infections.

"If the Nizamuddin incident (in Delhi) had not happened, then our case doubling rate which is currently 4.1 would have been 7.4 days," health ministry official Lav Agarwal told reporters on Sunday.

Read more: Mosques combed to trace contacts as Tableeghi Jamaat a new virus hotspot

The ministry on Saturday issued an advisory for Indians to use homemade reusable face covers to "help in protecting the community at large".

Residents light diyas or oil lamps forming the words "Stay Home" in Amritsar, India, April 5, 2020. AFP/Narinder Nanu

The government imposed a ban on the export of malaria treatment drug hydroxychloroquine, removing exemptions such as for fulfilling export obligations that it put in place several days ago.

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat malaria have shown early promise against the COVID-19 illness in early studies in France and China.

Impact of 'lights off'

Modi’s appeal to citizens to switch off lights generated a lot more work and some tough challenges for India’s power sector workers. It set off alarm bells for those in charge of the national power grid, prompting a flurry of orders to officials manning generation plants and managing grid load, amid concerns that a surge in voltage due to a steep dip in demand could harm the grid and cause widespread outages.

India’s Power System Operation Corp (POSOCO), which oversees the national power grid, ordered all senior officials to be present at generating stations, substations and load despatch centers across India between 6-10pm on Sunday.

It advised engineers to start reducing output from baseload plants such as coal-fired power stations just ahead of 9pm and ramp up generation from hydro and gas plants — typically used to address peak power demand — to manage the anticipated gyration in demand.

India’s power consumption has already plunged amid the lockdown to stem coronavirus cases — which rose to nearly 4,000 on Saturday. Some states are worried about the impact of the “lights off”.

Additional input from AFP and Reuters