With one more death due to coronavirus having been reported, taking the toll to four, and the number of cases increasing, the government Thursday announced a week-long closure of all scheduled international flights to and from India to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The restrictions will be in place from March 22 to 29.
The number of cases detected rose to 173, with 20 fresh ones reported in the past 24 hours, mostly affecting people with a history of international travel. The fourth death was reported in Punjab. An Indian died of coronavirus in Iran.
The health ministry also advised, and asked state governments to issue instructions to the same effect, all citizens above 65 and children below 10 to stay at home. The exceptions in the case of senior citizens are public representatives, government servants, and medical professionals.
The Railways has decided to suspend concessional tickets except for patients, students, and those in the Divyangjan category from the night of March 20-21 till further notice. India sees over 300 international flights each day but the numbers have been shrinking by the day because of travel bans. All passenger traffic from Malaysia, the Philippines, Europe, and Turkey has been suspended in the past two days. But flights to the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, Africa, and West Asia remain operational. These too will be suspended for a week beginning Sunday.
Non-scheduled and ferry flights will be allowed case by case. A few European countries have sought permission to operate relief flights to transport their citizens home.
According to an order of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, no international scheduled passenger flight will be allowed to take off after 5.30 am on Sunday.
No international flight will be allowed to disembark passengers in India after 1.30 am on Monday.
Several states and regions, including the Kashmir Valley, prepared for a partial lockdown. All public transport was prohibited in Srinagar. Several states asked temples and other places of worship to remain closed.
The Centre has requested states to enforce work from home for private-sector employees except those working in emergency and other essential services.
The health ministry said the fourth death, reported in Punjab, was that of an elderly person who had diabetes and cardiac ailments. Punjab has said it will suspend all public transport from Friday midnight and restricted public gatherings to fewer than 20 people, as did Delhi.
These decisions, among a series of steps, are aimed at ensuring India does not witness community-level transmission of the disease, which has resulted in more than 200,000 cases around the world.
The Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations postponed class 10 and 12 examinations, which were to start on Thursday. With the class 12 sociology exam scheduled to be held at 2 pm, the announcement was made at 10 am.
In Maharashtra, the laundry staff at the Yavatmal hospital refused to wash clothes from isolation wards having three coronavirus patients.