Coronavirus battle in India includes call to light candles to dispel 'darkness' of pandemic

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As the world's second-largest country endures a nationwide lockdown to fight coronavirus, India's prime minister is asking people to light candles Sunday as a sign of hope.

Narendra Modi has asked the country's 1.3 billion people to switch off lights in their homes for nine minutes while lighting candles and lamps on their balconies.

"We will experience the superpower of light, clearly illuminating the common purpose we are all fighting for," he said in a video message. "In that light, in that luster, in that radiance, let us resolve in our minds that we are not alone, that no one is alone."

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Modi said the gesture will dispel the darkness created by coronavirus and show that people are united in the fight against the pandemic.

As a substitute for candles, the prime minister encouraged people to use their mobile phones as flashlights.

Modi said social distancing is the only way to break the chain of coronavirus. An earlier appeal for people to applaud those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak was met with criticism when streets became filled with celebrants, according to Sky News.

A municipal worker fumigates a residential area during a lockdown to prevent the spread of new coronavirus in Prayagraj, India, Saturday, April 4, 2020.

A municipal worker fumigates a residential area during a lockdown to prevent the spread of new coronavirus in Prayagraj, India, Saturday, April 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Modi ordered a three-week lockdown across the country on March 24 to stop a massive outbreak of infections. People are allowed to leave their homes only for essentials. Religious gatherings are explicitly banned.

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The abrupt shutdown announcement led to a mass exodus of migrant workers from cities to villages across the country. Many were forced to make the journey on foot after the country's rail system was shut down.

People from an apartment complex board an ambulance to be taken to a hospital for quarantine after a person was found to be COVID-19 positive, in Gauhati, India.

People from an apartment complex board an ambulance to be taken to a hospital for quarantine after a person was found to be COVID-19 positive, in Gauhati, India. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

On Friday, Modi acknowledged the hardships caused by the shutdown to millions of people who have been left jobless and tens of thousands of migrant workers who were forced to flee their villages in serach of food and shelter.

The country's main opposition party blasted Modi for not providing specific answers to "critical questions" over how India is responding to COVID-19.

Residents sanitize their area as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 in Gauhati, India, Sunday, April 5, 2020.

Residents sanitize their area as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 in Gauhati, India, Sunday, April 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

"The country was expecting answers from the prime minister on the issues of shortage of personal protection equipment and on helping the poor and migrant laborers who were without food and money," said Pawan Khera, a spokesman for the opposition Congress party.

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Indian officials have repeatedly insisted there is no evidence yet of community spread, but there has been relatively scant testing for the disease in a country where tens of millions live in dense urban areas with irregular access to clean water.

As of Sunday morning, there were at least 3,588 positive cases of COVID-19  in India and 99 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.