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India nears shutdown over coronavirus spread, more travel curbs imposed

Members of the public in India wear masks to protect against coronavirus, March 2020.
Members of the public in India wear masks to protect against coronavirus, March 2020. © Murali Krishnan/RFI

The number of people infected with coronavirus in India has now reached 137, with a third death reported in the financial capital Mumbai. The Indian government has restricted incoming travel from a number of nations.

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As Covid-19 extends its footprint in India with three deaths and the total number of cases climbing to 137 on Tuesday, the government announced that bans would be placed on arrivals from destinations including the European Union, Malaysia, the Philippines and Afghanistan.

While the authorities in Delhi imposed travel bans and lockdown measures, social distancing emerged as the key to fighting the pandemic.

The western state of Maharashtra tops the list with 39 confirmed positive cases, followed by Kerala, in the south-west, with 24.

Key measures initiated include the closure of all educational institutions -- schools, colleges and universities -- along with gyms, museums, cultural and social centres, swimming pools and theatres across the country.

The Taj Mahal in the northern city of Agra, a site which attracts tens of thousands of visitors every day, has been shut down until 31 March.

Taj Mahal, other monuments, museums closed

“The Archaeological Survey of India has closed 3,000 monuments and 200 museums in the wake of increasing cases of coronavirus,” Culture Minister Prahlad Patel told RFI.

The Indian Premier League, featuring nearly 60 foreign players in the world’s most lucrative cricket tournament and scheduled to begin later this month, has been postponed to 15 April.

Last week, India suspended practically all visas, except for diplomats and those taking up employment, till 15 April to slow the spread of the disease.

Additional laboratories to be set up

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s key group of ministers met for the seventh time on Tuesday to take stock of the situation and assess measures in place to combat and contain the virus.

On Tuesday, the Indian Council of Medical Research said that the country is still at Stage 2 (local transmission) of the virus and assured the public that an additional 49 laboratories in the government sector will be set up by the end of the week. 

“We already know that we are in stage 2. We are not in stage 3 and we are expanding our number of laboratories. Today, we have 72 functional laboratories in the system,” director general Dr Balram Bhargava told RFI.

Bhargava also urged private labs to provide tests for the virus. He said random testing is not currently planned.

Social distancing

Across the country, several states were encouraging social distancing and isolation for its citizenry. In a bid to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus across the state, the Kerala government has launched a mass hand-washing campaign under the banner ''break the chain''.

A stamp used for confinement against coronavirus in India, March 2020.
A stamp used for confinement against coronavirus in India, March 2020. © Murali Krishnan/RFI

The campaign aims to educate people about the importance of public and personal hygiene.

Meanwhile India pledged $US 10 million toward a Covid-19 emergency fund and said it was putting together a rapid response team of doctors and specialists for the eight-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation as part of an initiative led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Last week, the World Health Organisation declared coronavirus to be a pandemic.

Globally, over 188,000 confirmed cases have been reported, and more than 7,400 people have lost their lives.

 

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