Coronavirus outbreak’s impact intensified in India on Thursday as the country registered first death due to the deadly virus in Karnataka while the total number of positive cases surpassed 70. Several state governments declared coronavirus as an epidemic and ordered the educational institutions to remain shut at least till March 31.
Strict tourism guidelines and scare among investors resulted in a bloodbath at the share markets, which witnessed the worst day since 2008. The two key indices – Nifty and Sensex, lost around 8 per cent by the end of the business.
Meanwhile, the Centre announced that it has stepped measures to control the coronavirus outbreak. The government also announced measures to evacuate 400 Indians stranded in Iran within the next three days.
Here are the key developments on the coronavirus outbreak in India:
First confirmed death from coronavirus in India:
The first confirmed case of death from coronavirus in India has been reported from Karnataka’s Kalaburgi. A 76-year-old man who had recently passed away has been confirmed as a case of Covid-19 death.
“The 76-year-old man from Kalaburgi who passed away and was a suspected Covid-19 patient has been confirmed for Covid-19” B Sriramulu, Karnataka health minister said in a tweet.
The minister said that necessary contact tracing, isolation and other measures as per protocol were being carried out. Telangana government has also been informed since he went to a private hospital there, he said.
Positive cases surpass 70
As per the Centre’s data, the number of positive coronavirus cases in India jumped from 60 to at least 74 on Thursday. The 14 new cases include nine from Maharashtra and one each from Delhi, Ladakh, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh as well as one foreign national, the Union Health Ministry said on Thursday. Apart from these the state governments of Karnataka and Kerala also reported two new cases each (including the death).
Lav Aggarwal, the Joint Secretary in the health 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.
Epidemic declared in Delhi, schools shut till March 31
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.
Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Manipur governments also announced the closure of schools till March 31.
Say no to panic: PM Modi
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 the safety of all by avoiding large gatherings.”
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.
Say No to Panic, Say Yes to Precautions.
No Minister of the Central Government will travel abroad in the upcoming days. I urge our countrymen to also avoid non-essential travel.
We can break the chain of spread and ensure safety of all by avoiding large gatherings.
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.
Centre, 15 states and UTs set up helplines for coronavirus
The government has set up a central helpline — 011-23978046 — related to coronavirus outbreak in the country, besides 15 states and union territories using either of ‘104’, ‘108’ and ‘102’ as their state-level helpline number, the Union Home Ministry said.
Bihar, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Punjab, Sikkim, Telangana, Uttarakhand, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep and Puducherry are using phone number 104 as helplines for tackling coronavirus outbreak, it said.
Meghalaya is using 108 and Mizoram 102 as their respective helpline for the viral outbreak, they said.
A central helpline — 011-23978046 — related to coronavirus outbreak in the country has also been set up, the ministry said.
The Delhi government’s helpline is 011-22307145, it said.
400 Indians to be evacuated from Iran
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.
The ministry said the government is undertaking measures to ensure the safety and security of its citizens in Iran after it became clear that the country was facing a COVID-19 outbreak.
Indian nationals in Iran include pilgrims, students and fishermen, it added.
On March 7, 108 samples were received from Iran. These samples are being tested at the AIIMS laboratory. Also, six scientists from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) are stationed in Iran and have so far collected swab samples of over 400 Indians stranded there.
“The first batch of 58 evacuees from Iran has arrived on March 10 with 25 men, 31 women and 2 children on board. All evacuees are asymptomatic at present,” the ministry said.
The 400 Indians will be evacuated via three flights in next two to three days, the Centre said.
India has evacuated 948 passengers from Covid-19 affected countries. Of these, 900 are Indian citizens and 48 from different countries, including Maldives, Myanmar, Bangladesh, China, USA, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, South Africa and Peru, the ministry said.
On its part, the 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.
Markets witness bloodbath over coronavirus scare
Spooked by the coronavirus outbreak, domestic markets witnessed another day of carnage on Thursday as equity benchmarks recorded their biggest ever one-day fall and rupee tumbled 60 paise against the US dollar while gold price too slumped.
The 30-share BSE Sensex crashed 2,919 points and investor wealth eroded by Rs 11 lakh crore.
As global markets were awash in the red over mounting fears over the coronavirus pandemic, the Sensex closed 2,919.26 points or 8.18 per cent lower at 32,778.14 points.
On heavy dollar demand, the rupee plunged 60 paise to close at a fresh 17-month low of 74.28 against the greenback. Gold, generally seen as a safe haven, declined Rs 128 to Rs 44,490 per 10 grams in the national capital.
In efforts to soothe the foreign exchange market, the Reserve Bank announced sale of USD 2 billion worth American currency to banks.
The situation was not helped as the stricter tourism guidelines hit airlines and tourism sector bad. Air India decided to cancel all its flights to Kuwait till April 30 and curtail services to various other countries, including Spain, France and Sri Lanka.
The move comes a day after the national carrier announced a temporary suspension of its services to Rome, Milan and Seoul, amid the coronavirus pandemic which has triggered the imposition of travel restrictions by various countries across the globe.
The hotel industry in the national capital also took a visible hit with tourists scrapping plans and several hotels in the national capital cancelling bookings for conferences and group events. Several hotels in the city—from luxury to budget accommodations–have seen a dip in tourist footfall.
According to an estimate by Indian Association of Tour Operators, visa ban over coronavirus is likely to have an immediate economic impact of at least Rs 8,500 crore in the hotel, aviation and travel sectors.
Rahul Gandhi hits out at Centre
Meanwhile, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi claimed that
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday attacked the government over its handling of the economy and coronavirus, alleging that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “sleeping at the wheel” and the country was headed for an “accident”.
Claiming that there was “no preparation” by the government to tackle coronavirus, he said the government was “asleep” and did not realise that the virus was spreading in this country and was going to have devastating consequences.
Union health minister Harsh Vardhan reacted sharply to Rahul Gandhi’s allegations.
“India has pulled out all full stops as far as action on #COVID19 goes! Nation stands together in critical health emergency #CoronavirusPandemic but @RahulGandhi ji continues to play petty politics & demoralise people,” Harsh Vardhan said in a tweet.