New Delhi: As the death toll rose to nine on Monday and the number of confirmed coronavirus cases touched 471, the highest jump in a day, India is inching towards a near-total lockdown.
All domestic flights are also set to be grounded in view of the crisis.
West Bengal and Himachal Pradesh reported a casualty each on Monday. Seven deaths were earlier reported from Gujarat, Bihar and Maharashtra (two), Karnataka, Delhi, and Punjab.
As many as 30 states and Union Territories have imposed a complete lockdown covering 548 districts. Of these Maharashtra and Punjab were put under statewide curfews.
The states and UTs that are totally locked down are Delhi, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Karnataka, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Haryana, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Assam, Tripura, Goa, Nagaland, Manipur, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Chandigarh, Ladakh, Daman & Diu & Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Puducherry, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
The states and UTs that have imposed partial shutdown are Uttar Pradesh (17 districts), Madhya Pradesh (37 districts), Odisha (five districts and six municipal jurisdictions) and Lakshadweep. Only two states – Sikkim and Mizoram — are yet to announce any restrictive orders.
The extreme measures by the central and state governments were taken in light of the continued upward trajectory of the virus amid warning of legal action against those violating the restrictions imposed during the lockdown.
Punjab on Monday became the first state to impose a curfew all over it with no relaxations, only exempting essential services to prevent the infection, while Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said curfew will be imposed in the entire state from Monday midnight as the fight against coronavirus has reached a "turning point".
As many people continued to venture out despite the lockdown order, Puducherry also ordered a curfew.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked state governments to ensure that rules and regulations of the lockdowns are enforced, ruing that many people are not taking the measure seriously.
"Many people are still not taking the lockdown seriously. Please save yourself, save your family, follow the instructions seriously. I request state governments to ensure rules and laws are followed," he said in a tweet in Hindi.
Stepping up its efforts to tackle the unprecedented situation arising out of the coronavirus breakout, the aviation ministry announced that no domestic commercial passenger flight would be allowed to operate in the country from March 25 onward. India has already banned international flights for a week from Sunday. The authorities have also suspended all passenger train and inter-state bus services till March 31.
The Centre has issued directions to state governments, asking them to take legal action against those who are found violating the lockdown orders.
"States have been asked to strictly enforce the lockdown in the areas where it has been announced. Legal action will be taken against violators," wrote the Press Information Bureau, government's communication wing, in a tweet.
The country's premier medical institute in the national capital, AIIMS, decided to shut down its out-patient department (OPD), including speciality services, all new and follow up patients' registration, from March 24 till further order as it redirects its resources to control the Covid-19 outbreak.
Last week, the AIIMS had issued a circular postponing all nonessential elective procedures and surgeries and directed for only emergency life-saving surgeries with effect from March 21.
The virus, which originated from China's Wuhan nearly three months ago, has claimed over 15,000 lives globally and infected nearly 3.5 lakh people so far.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said a total of 20,707 samples from 19,817 individuals have been tested so far.
Amid rising cases, the national task force for COVID-19 constituted by ICMR has recommended hydroxy-chloroquine as a preventive medication for high-risk population.
According to the ICMR advisory, it should be given to high risk population -- asymptomatic healthcare workers involved in the care of suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 and asymptomatic household contacts of laboratory confirmed cases.
The protocol recommended by the National Task Force has been approved by the Drug Controller General of India (DGCI) for restricted use in emergency situations.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court directed all states and UTs to set up high-level committees to determine class of prisoners who could be released on parole, in a bid to decongest prisons to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Soon after, the Tihar Prison authorities said they are planning to release around 3,000 prisoners to ease congestion in jails over the coronavirus threat.
It also said prisoners convicted of or charged with offences having jail term up to 7 years can be given parole.
The court also ordered that a high-level committee should work in consultation with State Legal Service Authority for release of prisoners.
Dubbing coronavirus as a "lifetime challenge", the prime minister while speaking to representatives of television news channels through a video-conference said it needed to be tackled through new and innovative solutions.
"The tireless efforts of the reporters, camerapersons and technicians are a great service to the nation. The media should counter pessimism and panic through positive communication. COVID-19 is a lifetime challenge and it needs to be tackled through new and innovative solutions," Modi said.
According to an official release, he also thanked the media for understanding the gravity of the pandemic threat and appreciated the role played by the news channels in spreading awareness.
"A long battle lies ahead of us, whereby awareness on social distancing has to be spread and information about latest developments and key decisions needs to be communicated swiftly and professionally by the channels through an easy-to-grasp language," the prime minister said.(With inputs from PTI)