The coronavirus cases in India rose to 74 on Thursday after 14 fresh cases were reported from several states, including nine from Maharahtra, Union health ministry said, as the Delhi government declared COVID-19 an epidemic and announced shutting down of schools, colleges and cinema halls till March 31.
As the Centre and the states ramped up their efforts to tackle novel coronavirus, which has claimed at least 4,600 lives globally and affected nearly 125,293, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the countrymen not to panic and asserted that the government was fully vigilant.
Apart from directing the Union ministers not to travel abroad in the upcoming days, Modi also urged people to avoid non-essential travel, saying,"we can break the chain of spread and ensure safety of all by avoiding large gatherings." A day after it suspended all visas, except a few categories such as diplomatic and employment, till April 15, the government also announced that three planes will be sent in the next three days to bring back Indians stranded in Iran, one of the worst coronavirus-hit country.ALSO READ: Stay put, travel only under compelling reasons: MEA on Coronavirus
Asking people not to panic, the Union health ministry said no community transmission of the virus has been observed and there has only been cases of local transmission so far.
With the novel coronavirus being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, Raman R Gangakhedkar, the head of the Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases-I, a division of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said even though the virus is difficult to isolate, scientists at the National Institute of Virology in Pune have been successful in finding about 11 isolates, but developing a vaccine will take at least one-and-a-half to two years.
The total number of 74 patients in India includes 16 Italians and one Canadian. The figure is inclusive of three patients from Kerala who were discharged last month following recovery.ALSO READ: Kejriwal declares coronavirus epidemic in Delhi, shuts schools and colleges
Delhi govt has declared Coronavirus an epidemic. We need to exercise abundant caution to contain the disease. All cinema halls, schools, colleges in Delhi will be shut until 31st March, but exams will continue as scheduled. People are advised to stay away from public gatherings. pic.twitter.com/2vHyinNKAP— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) March 12, 2020
Giving a state-wise breakup, the ministry said Delhi reported six positive cases and Uttar Pradesh 10. Karnataka has four cases, Maharashtra 11 and Ladakh three.
Rajasthan, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab have reported one case each.
Kerala has recorded 17 cases, including three patients who were discharged last month.
Lav Aggarwal, the Joint Secretary in the ministry, said 1,500 people who came in contact with these 74 infected people were under rigorous observation while over 30,000 people across the country were under community surveillance.
Meanwhile, the Delhi government declared coronavirus an epidemic and said all those schools and colleges where exams are over should be shut down as also cinema halls till March 31.
The decision was taken at a high-level meeting attended by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, LG Anil Baijal and top government officials. Disinfecting all public places, including government and private offices and shopping malls has been made compulsory, Kejriwal said.ALSO READ: IndiGo says fall in bookings amid Coronavirus to impact quarterly earnings
On its part, defence ministry has set up seven more quarantine facilities, especially for Indian citizens being brought to back from the coronavirus-hit countries, an official said. The facilities have been set up at Jaisalmer, Suratgadh, Jhansi, Jodhpur, Deolali, Kolkata and Chennai.
The Army is already operating a quarantine facility in Manesar while the one in Hindon, near Ghaziabad, is being operated by the air force. Asserting that the focus is on preventive approach, and adequate testing facilities have been made available, Aggarwal said India presently has around 1 lakh testing kits and more testing kits have been ordered.
About evacuation measures undertaken so far, Aggarwal said till now, India has evacuated 948 people from the coronavirus-affected countries.
Of these, 900 were Indians and 48 belonged to different nationalities including from the Maldives, Myanmar, Bangladesh, China, the USA, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, South Africa and Peru, he said. Aggarwal said the government has made 52 laboratories functional for testing samples while 57 labs have been designated for helping in sample collection to enhance diagnosis and detection capacity of the disease.
ALSO READ: NBA suspends season after Utah Jazz player tests positive for Coronavirus The health officials also said that India's efforts to deal with coronavirus are in consonance with WHO and the focus is on preventive approach.
The government has stepped up vigil and following a strong contact tracing system to ensure anyone who has come in touch with the infected are not missed out, they said, adding till now, 11,14,025 people have been screened at 30 designated airports in India.
Asked whether high temperature kills the coronavirus, officials said there was no study or evidence till now to suggest that.
As the contagious disease with flu-like symptoms spread across the globe, the cabinet secretary on Wednesday said states and Union Territories should invoke provisions of section 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, so that all advisories issued by the Union health ministry and state governments are enforceable.ALSO READ: India suspends tourist visas from March 13 to prevent coronavirus spread
Meanwhile, the External Affairs Ministry has advised against holding this year's IPL edition in wake of the coronavirus scare, but left it to the organisers to take a final call on it.
This was stated by MEA Additional Secretary Dammu Ravi who has been appointed as the nodal officer to coordinate efforts to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
India has suspended all visas, except for a few categories such as diplomatic and employment, till April 15 in a bid to contain the spread of respiratory virus, according to a revised travel advisory. Visa-free travel facility granted to Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card holders is also kept in abeyance till April 15, according to the advisory issued on Wednesday.
It said, any foreign national who intends to travel to India for compelling reason may contact the nearest Indian Mission and that all incoming travellers, including Indian nationals, arriving from or having visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after February 15 will be quarantined for a minimum 14 days.