Covid-19 outbreak: As numbers rise, India gets battle ready

New Delhi: The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in India rose to 151 on Wednesday, up from 137, with Maharashtra announcing sweeping measures to try and prevent crowding. The state tops the infection count in India with 39 cases.

The country’s health minister Harsh Vardhan reviewed quarantine facilities, including those at airports and other key transit points to determine the level of preparedness in case the count surges without warning, as it has in countries such as Italy and the US. India’s death toll from the disease remained at three. Globally, deaths have exceeded 8,800 while infections are more than 215,000.

The government intensified precautionary measures to curb the spread. Several states have ordered closure of public places including educational institutions, cinema halls and malls till the month end. The Indian Railways cancelled close to 100 trains till April 1 as a precautionary measure to rein in the coronavirus spread.

In order to reduce overcrowding in Mumbai, state government offices will work at 50% capacity — with half the staff coming in on alternate days.


Army Suspends Wargames, Training

The state government also said that local trains, state transport and private buses, and the metro should carry half as many people as they normally do, although it’s not clear how this will be implemented. BEST buses won’t carry standing passengers. Market timings will be set so that stores open only half the day or on alternate days.

Gurgaon became the latest city to order the closure of malls, restaurants, pubs, gyms, movie halls and weekly bazaars. On Tuesday, the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), which represents 500,000-plus restaurants across the country, advised its members to shut dinein operations across the country until March 31.

The 14 new cases reported since Tuesday included the first in the armed forces, a 34-year-old soldier in Leh. The army has intensified checks on soldiers for flu symptoms on their return from leave besides cancelling non-essential travel and conferences. The army also announced suspension of wargames, conferences and training activities.

As visa and travel curbs took hold, Vistara suspended overseas flights, a day after Go Air did so. Air India has cancelled and clubbed more than 50 international flights, some of them till the end of May. Indian carriers have already clubbed up to 70 domestic flights to and from the busiest airports of Delhi and Mumbai. Etihad said it was reducing the frequency of services to India. The curbs on inbound travel have led to chaos at major terminals like the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport on Wednesday.

The Centre is closely monitoring prices of soaps, floor cleaners and thermal scanners as demand spikes, consumer affairs minister Ram Vilas Paswan said. The ministry, which normally monitors the prices of 22 essential commodities, recently added face masks and hand sanitizers to the list.

“We are monitoring prices of three more products — soap, floor and hand cleaners like Lizol and Dettol as well as thermal scanners whose demand has gone up because of coronavirus scare,” Paswan told.

Vardhan directed teams to inspect quarantine facilities to ensure that hygiene standards are being maintained, apart from checking on segregation of passengers at airports, transportation to quarantine facilities and checks-ups being conducted. He said teams should be deputed to regularly inspect and monitor quarantine facilities. He reviewed outpatient facilities, the availability of testing kits, personal protective equipment, medicines and isolation wards, directing hospitals to ensure adequate availability of safety gear for all healthcare workers.

The army has placed the Ladakh Scouts Regimental Centre in Leh, where the soldier was posted, under lockdown. Eighty-one passengers on an Air India Leh-Srinagar flight were quarantined on their arrival in Srinagar on Wednesday, officials said. The flight was sent back to Leh where it dropped the remaining 25 passengers, they said. Srinagar deputy commissioner Shahid Iqbal Chaudhary said all passengers arriving in Srinagar from Leh will have to undergo mandatory quarantine.

The price of a platform ticket was also increased from Rs 10 to Rs 50 at more than 170 stations to reduce crowding. Central Railway said in a tweet regarding services that had been suspended: “Trains cancelled due to Covid-19 preventive measure and non-occupancy.”

The ministry of external affairs told the Lok Sabha that 276 Indians are infected with Covid-19 abroad. Out of these, 255 are in Iran, 12 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), five in Italy and one each in Hong Kong, Kuwait, Rwanda, and Sri Lanka.

The global death toll from the pandemic topped 8,700 on Wednesday, most of them in Europe and in Asia where the outbreak originated. Italy reported 475 deaths in a day, taking the country toll to nearly 3,000.

Standup comic and late night show host Trevor Noah’s ‘Loud and Clear’ tour to India has been postponed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, his global team announced on Wednesday. The Emmy-winning The Daily Show presenter was scheduled to perform in Mumbai and New Delhi in April.

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