With 519 confirmed cases, India goes into 21-day lockdown to save the lives of 1.5billion population. India is the second-most populated country in the world. The restrictions came into force at midnight local time (18:30 GMT) and will be enforced for 21 days.
“There will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes,” Mr Modi said in a televised address.
He appealed for people not to panic – but crowds quickly mobbed stores in the capital, Delhi, and other cities. The new measures follow a sharp increase in cases in recent days. There have been 519 confirmed cases across India and 10 reported deaths.
Nearly 400,000 people have tested positive for the virus worldwide, and around 17,000 have died.
“The entire country will be in lockdown, total lockdown,” Mr Modi said on Tuesday.
He added: “To save India, to save its every citizen, you, your family… every street, every neighbourhood is being put under lockdown.”
Mr Modi warned that if India does not “handle these 21 days well, then our country… will go backwards by 21 years”.
“This is a curfew,” he said. “We will have to pay the economic cost of this but [it] is the responsibility of everyone.”
With this aggressive measure, PM Modi hopes to avoid a crisis on the scale of China’s or Europe’s, but his new measures will have a massive economic cost.
The prime minister ordered a trial run of a national lockdown on Sunday and had urged Indians to stay home when possible, knowing the country’s health care capacity lags far behind its population.
Modi has claimed that there are not yet signs of community spread, but experts caution that India is not testing enough people to know the true extent of the situation. About 15,000 tests had been conducted as of Tuesday.