In a nationwide show of support for medical teams, Indians bang pots and pans from their balconies during a government-imposed curfew to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The sound of silence descended on India as hundreds of millions hunkered indoors Sunday in response to a call by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to observe a voluntary 14-hour lockdown as a surge in coronavirus cases deepens worries about the pandemic in the world’s second most populous nation.

Authorities also shut down one of the world’s busiest rail networks and most public transport including metro trains and suburban train networks that are the lifeline in cities like Mumbai as the country steps up the fight against the virus.

The eerie calm broke only briefly at 5 p.m. when millions of citizens emerged at windows, doorsteps and balconies to clap, ring bells, sing and blow conch shells – a gesture that the prime minister had called for to show the nation’s appreciation for those providing essential services such as health care and sanitation. Those who joined in included top Bollywood stars.

The lockdown from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. is seen as an effort to prepare people for what India may face in the days and weeks ahead — it has counted 341 cases as of Sunday and reported six deaths. But the sharp spike in cases in the last two days has led to grim warnings from some public health experts that after Europe, India could emerge as the next hotspot for the epidemic.

India faces many challenges in containing the pandemic — its massive population, packed cities, overcrowded slums, a huge migrant population and an inadequate health infrastructure. And as summer looms, advise on washing hands frequently could be of little use to a vast population that struggles with chronic water shortages.

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