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India reports 28 coronavirus cases, all international passengers to be screened

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New Delhi, Mar 04:  The number of coronavirus cases in India has risen to 28, including 16 Italians touring through Rajasthan, the government announced on Wednesday as consternation bordering on panic over the contagious disease with flu like symptoms spread across the country.

All international passengers will henceforth be screened at airports, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said at a press conference. Earlier, travellers from only 12 countries were screened at airports for the disease that has claimed over 3,000 lives and infected more than 90,000 worldwide.

Seventeen Indians abroad have been infected, 16 from a cruise ship in Japan “being treated at onshore medical facilities” and one from the United Arab Emirates, the Ministry of External Affairs said.

With Holi less than a week away on March 10, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP president J P Nadda and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said they would not celebrate the festival of colours or hold any Holi Milan gathering. President Ram Nath Kovind’s office also said Rashtrapati Bhavan will not hold any Holi gathering.

“Experts across the world have advised to reduce mass gatherings to avoid the spread of COVID19 Novel Coronavirus. Hence this year, I have decided not to participate in any ‘Holi milan’ programme,” the prime minister tweeted.

Giving a break-up of the cases in the country, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said one patient is from Delhi, six more, his relatives, are from Agra, one is from Telangana and there are 16 Italians as well as their Indian driver in Rajasthan. The figure includes three earlier cases in Kerala who have been discharged.

The minister said the government has adopted a cluster approach, as part of which health authorities will check and sensitise every household within a three kilometre radius of the house of the infected person.

The government also intends to set up a laboratory in Iran so Indians there can be tested for possible exposure to the virus before being brought back, he said. An estimated 1,200 Indians, mostly students and pilgrims, are in Iran.

As Indians all over came to grips with the global epidemic, the health crisis was discussed at a meeting of the Union cabinet. Union minister Prakash Javadekar said over six lakh people had been screened for coronavirus symptoms in 21 airports.

Briefing reporters, the Information and Broadcasting minister said more than 10 lakh people entering India from the open borders with Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar have also been screened.

While only the virology institute based in Pune is fit for conducting coronavirus tests, the government has now set up 15 more labs and is in the process of establishing 19 additional centres, he said.

“The government is proactively engaged in dealing with coronavirus. The prime minister is monitoring the situation daily,” he said.

Several state governments, including in Rajasthan and Delhi, screened visitors and others for the disease in hotels and guesthouses.

With 16 Italian tourists, who came to Rajasthan by road from Delhi, testing positive, the desert state swung into action to contain the infection.

State Health Minister Raghu Sharma said in the assembly that at least 215 people had come into contact with the group. These included 53 people in Jhunjhunu, 14 each in Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, 44 in Bikaner, six in Udaipur and 76 people in Jaipur.

Swab samples of 93 people were taken with 51 suspected patients tested negative whereas reports of 41 others are still pending, he said.

He said Italy has the third largest number of coronavirus cases in the world (more than 2,500) and the tourists should have been screened earlier.

A 69-year-old man was the first one in the group to test positive for the disease. Subsequently, his wife, too, tested positive at Jaipur’s Sawai Man Singh Hospital, where the couple is now admitted.

The other 14 members of the group and their Indian driver have been quarantined at the ITBP camp in Chhawla.

In Delhi, Kejriwal said efforts are on to check and screen 88 people who came in contact with the Delhi man who tested positive for coronavirus.

Vardhan said the 45-year-old man from Mayur Vihar and six of his relatives from Agra whom he recently visited are being treated at the Safdarjung hospital.

Kejriwal said a taskforce headed by him has been formed to tackle the situation emerging from the coronavirus infection.

“We are concerned about situation but no need to panic,” he said.

A coronavirus testing lab will be set up at the Lady Hardinge Hospital and also at the LNJP Hospital if necessary, Kejriwal said.

As the coronavirus came perilously close to home and dos and don’ts about the disease were circulated, some advocated that the Indian way of greeting, the Namaste, was the way to go. Many people went into panic mode and started stocking up on hand sanitisers and masks.

Many shops, including in the national capital, said stocks of both had run out.

However, Kejriwal said there is no shortage of masks.

In Rajasthan, too, purchase orders have been given for 50,000 personal protective equipment kits and five lakh each of N95 and triple layer masks to deal with the problem, Rajasthan minister Sharma said.

Many schools in the National Capital Region said they were fumigating and sanitising their premises. Three schools in Delhi and its adjoining suburbs announced holidays for students and staff as a precautionary measure to prevent spread of the disease while two schools advanced their spring break and others sent out advisories to parents.