India’s prime minister announces huge virus relief package

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Narendra Modi

FILE – In this Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, file photo, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends the BRICS Business Council prior to the 11th edition of the BRICS Summit, in Brasilia, Brazil. Modi announced Tuesday, May 12, 2020, that the government will spend the equivalent of nearly 10% of the country’s GDP on a coronavirus virus economic relief package designed to make the world’s second most populous nation more self reliant. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, File)

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NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Tuesday that the government will spend more than $260 billion, the equivalent of nearly 10% of the country’s GDP, on a coronavirus economic relief package designed to make the world’s second most populous nation more self-reliant.

“The package’s main aim is to build a self-reliant India,” Modi said in a televised speech, adding that it will help the country compete globally.

India entered its sixth week of a stringent nationwide lockdown on Tuesday, pushing an economy already enfeebled before the pandemic to the brink of collapse.

Modi said the details of the package would be disclosed in the coming days.

Responding to the announcement of the relief package, the main opposition Congress party’s spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said Modi had given the country and the media a “headline.”

“India is deeply disappointed by your utter lack of empathy, sensitivity & failure to address the woes of millions of migrant workers,” Surjewala tweeted while referring to Modi.

The lockdown that began March 25 prompted an exodus of workers to their ancestral homes in the countryside. Economists say unemployment reached 24.7% this week.

Last week some restrictions on manufacturing and self-employment were lifted to ease the burden on the poor. Social distancing norms officially remained in effect, but some passenger rail service resumed on Tuesday from New Delhi and Mumbai, with trains allowed to run at full capacity.

A new phase in the lockdown will begin May 18, when the current phase is set to end, Modi said.

“Coronavirus is going to be part of our lives for a long time. But we can’t let our lives revolve around it,” he said.

Modi gave the oft-repeated promise that this century will belong to India, pointing to the country quickly ramping up production of personal protective equipment, ventilators and other supplies in response to the pandemic.

“The crisis has shown the importance of a self-dependent India. This is the only way,” he said.

COVID-19 risk as determined by nonprofit Covid Act Now.

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