The number of novel coronavirus cases in the country rose to 110 on Sunday, with Maharashtra reporting the highest followed by Kerala, while over 450 stranded Indians were flown back from Italy and Iran, the two worst-affected countries after China, and quarantined.
Extending the border restrictions in view of the coronavirus outbreak, the government has suspended travel and registration of pilgrims to the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara through the corridor from Sunday midnight, besides movement of all types of passengers to Pakistan through international border points.
All types of passenger movement were suspended on Saturday night through the Indo-Bangla, Indo-Nepal, Indo-Bhutan and Indo-Myanmar borders, barring a few specified border checkposts.
In a video-conference of SAARC members, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed setting up a COVID-19 emergency fund with India committing USD 10 million initially for it, and asserted that the best way to deal with the pandemic, which has now reportedly killed more than 6,000 people across the world, was by coming together and not growing apart.
Apart from Modi, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepalese Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, Bhutanese premier Lotay Tshering, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Special Assistant to the Pakistani Prime Minister on Health Zafar Mirza participated in the video-conference.
According to the Union Health Ministry, there are 110 cases in India so far, including the two persons who died in Delhi and Karnataka and 17 foreigners. Ten patients have been discharged.
As a precautionary measure, more states ordered closure of public places, including schools, cinema halls and malls, till month-end, courts were restricting their sittings, companies introducing the work-from-home option for employees and film bodies putting off shootings of films and shows.
Among the fresh cases, 13 were reported in Maharashtra, taking the count to 32, the Union health ministry said.
Delhi has so far reported seven positive cases, Kerala 22 and Uttar Pradesh 12. Karnataka has six coronavirus patients while Ladakh three and Jammu and Kashmir has two. Telangana reported three cases. Rajasthan also reported two cases. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab have reported one case each.
Uttarakhand reported its first coronavirus case on Sunday.
In Kerala, 20 Dubai-bound passengers were detained at the Kochi airport after a UK national, who was under surveillance but sneaked out and joined the group, tested positive for novel coronavirus, official sources said.
Earlier, the over 280 passengers of the Dubai-bound Emirates flight, which the group had taken, were offloaded at the airport. The flight left for Dubai in the afternoon after the 20 passengers were detained.
The UK national has been taken to an isolation facility at a nearby government hospital, a Cochin International Airport Limited spokesman said.
Kerala has launched an intensified medical check up in the inter-state border areas for people entering the state by rail and road. As many as 302 people are in the isolation wards of various hospitals across the state.
Elections to rural and urban local bodies in Andhra Pradesh have been put off for six weeks by the State Election Commission in view of the spread of coronavirus, according to State Election Commissioner N Ramesh Kumar. They were originally scheduled for March 21.
In Maharashtra, the Mumbai Police on Sunday clamped prohibitory orders under section 144, CrPC to stop tour operators from conducting any kind of group tours to foreign or domestic destinations till March 31.
The state has already invoked the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 that gives wide-ranging powers to officials to enforce measures, including that of lockdown and quarantine, required to tackle an outbreak.
Shopping malls, schools and colleges have been closed in the state till March 31.
Film bodies, including the Federation of Western Indian Cine Employees (FWICE), the Indian Film and Television Directors’ Association (IFTDA) and the Producers Guild of India, decided to put shootings of films, TV shows and web series on hold from March 19 to March 31.
The Tamil Nadu government directed closure of all kindergarten and primary schools till March 31. Chief Minister K Palaniswami also issued orders for closure of cinema halls and malls till the month-end in 16 districts bordering Kerala and Karnataka.
The Assam government too ordered shutting down of educational institutions, gymnasiums, swimming pools and cinema halls with an immediate effect till March 29 in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
The Haryana government ordered a similar shutdown till March 31 as a precautionary measure.
The Uttarakhand government has declared the coronavirus an epidemic and shut all multiplexes, cinema halls, degree colleges and technical institutes across the state till March 31, official sources said.
State Director (Health) SK Gupta told PTI that a probationer at the Forest Research Institute, who had returned from Spain on March 11, has tested positive — the first case in the hill state.
With this, 14 states and Union territories have reported coronavirus cases.
The Centre has asked people not to panic, saying no community transmission of the virus has been observed and there has only been a few cases of local transmission so far and that it is “not a health emergency” in India at present.
Meanwhile, the government continued to evacuate Indians stranded in coronavirus-hit Iran and Italy.
A total of 218 Indians, mostly students, from Milan landed at around 9.45 am at the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) in Delhi and were taken to an ITBP quarantine facility in south-west Delhi’s Chhawla area.
More than 230 Indians brought back from Iran reached New Delhi at about 3:15 am and were quarantined at the Indian Army Wellness Centre in Jaisalmer, the third batch to be evacuated from that country.
They arrived in Delhi on a Mahan Air flight from Tehran and were ferried by two Air India flights to Jaisalmer, IGI airport officials said.
Italy is the second-most affected country after China with over 1,400 deaths and 21,000 cases of coronavirus. It is followed by Iran where over 700 people have died and nearly 14,000 cases have been detected.
Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy said all paramilitary forces, including the CRPF, the ITBP and the BSF, have been advised to keep quarantine camps ready for COVID-19 suspects as a preparatory measure.
With the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring COVID-19 a pandemic, a health ministry official said over 4,000 people, who had come in contact with 93 positive cases, have been identified through contact tracing and are being tracked, while 42,000 people across the country are under community surveillance.
He said all essential facilities like community surveillance, quarantine, isolation wards, adequate personal protective equipment (PPEs), trained manpower, rapid response teams are being strengthened further in all states and Union territories.
An order has been placed for procurement of an additional over 80.5 lakh N95 masks and personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, the health ministry said.
The government had on Wednesday suspended all visas, barring a few categories like diplomatic and employment, in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
India-Bangladesh passenger train services between Kolkata and cities in the neighbouring country were also suspended from Sunday as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.
The Eastern Railway said services of the Maitree and Bandhan Express trains will remain suspended from March 15 to April 15 or till further orders, whichever is earlier.