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States Step up Vigil as Sixth Coronavirus Case Detected in Country; Airlines and Airport on Alert

Representative image.

Representative image.

The cases were confirmed on a day when the World Health Organization warned that protective gear, such as masks and goggles used by health workers fighting the new coronavirus, were running out and warned against “hoarding and misuse”.

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An Italian tourist in Jaipur tested positive for novel Coranavirus on Tuesday, taking the total number of confirmed cases in India to six so far. The 69-year-old tourist’s wife is also suspected to be have been infected with the virus and her samples are being sent to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune for another test, said an official from the Union Health Ministry.

The couple has been kept in isolation at Jaipur’s Sawai Man Singh (SMS) Hospital.

India had earlier reported three cases from Kerala, including two medical students from Wuhan in China, the epicentre of the deadly novel coronavirus. They have now recovered.

Twenty-one Italian tourists and three Indian tour operators, who were in the same group as the couple, have been sent to an Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) quarantine facility in Delhi for suspected exposure, said official sources.

Meanwhile, two private schools in Noida were shut on Tuesday for the next few days after the father of one of their students tested positive for Coronavirus. Several people, including his family members, were quarantined or kept in isolation as authorities stepped up prevention efforts, including suspending existing regular and e-visas to nationals of four other affected countries. These include Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan.

As concerns over the spread of the virus mounted after two more persons tested positive on Monday – one in Delhi and another in Telangana -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi held an extensive review on the preparedness. He also urged the people not to panic and instead take basic protective measures.

Amid the scare in Delhi-NCR, the demand for surgical and N95 masks increased manifold in Noida, with some people claiming they were being sold at rates much higher than the actual cost.

The World Health Organization warned that protective gear such as masks and goggles used by health workers fighting the new coronavirus were running out, warning against “hoarding and misuse”.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal held an emergency meeting with Health Minister Satyendar Jain and other top officials and took stock of government preparations to contain the virus.

Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said the city government was trying to get in touch with people who could be infected or were in contact with the man infected with the virus.

Jain said 3.5 lakh N95 masks were being arranged and the government has ordered 8,000 separation kits for staff treating coronavirus patients.

“COVID-19 is a new infection, but there is no need to panic," he said. "We are taking all possible steps to keep Delhi safe. Isolation wards are being readied in 25 hospitals, including 19 government and six private hospitals. 230 beds have been earmarked for coronavirus patients."

Travel history under scanner

Sources said the patient from Mayur Vihar in Delhi, who had travelled to Italy recently and tested positive on Monday, was shifted to a quarantine ward at Safdarjung Hospital on Sunday night.

One of the schools in Noida where the Delhi man's son is a primary class student said it will remain shut from March 4-6, while the other said it will be closed till Saturday. The board exams are not affected, the messages sent by the schools to the parents made clear.

It came to light that the man had thrown a birthday party last week for the child, triggering fears that those who attended it including some students and his relatives might be at risk.

Noida Chief Medical Officer Anurag Bhargava said samples from six people from the city, including three children, have been taken to check if anyone has been infected. Fumigation was underway in both schools and a Health Department team led by Bhargava visited the site.

Six other persons from Agra in Uttar Pradesh with “high-viral load” have been kept in isolation at Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi and their samples sent to NIV. In a statement, the Health Ministry said contact tracing of those who came in contact with the six is simultaneously being done through the Integrated Disease Surveillance Program (IDSP) network.

The Uttar Pradesh government said two Agra residents, who had come in contact with the Delhi man, were found exhibiting symptoms of Coronavirus.

“As many as 23 contacts were identified, and report of 13 persons were obtained. Of these six persons are suspected to be infected by the virus, and the samples have been sent to National Institute of Virology, Pune. All the six suspected patients have been admitted to Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital,” it said.

Hotels and authorities at tourist sites in Agra have been told to inform the office of the chief medical officer as soon as visitors from Italy, Iran or China arrive, so that they can be screened for the infection, said Agra Chief Medical Officer Dr Mukesh Vats.

The other patient who tested positive on Monday, a 24-year-old software engineer, is admitted in Hyderabad and had recently travelled to Dubai and Bengaluru. Karnataka Health Minister B Sriramulu said a medical team is monitoring the health condition of all those people who had come in contact with the techie.

Four IndiGo crew members, who were on the Dubai-Bengaluru flight on February 20 with the engineer, have also been placed under home observation since Monday.

Telangana Health Minister E Rajender said the engineer had worked with people from Hong Kong in Dubai last month where he is suspected to have contracted the virus.

An Army officer later on Tuesday was admitted to the isolation ward of a military hospital at Mhow in Madhya Pradesh for suspected exposure to the coronavirus after returning from Iran.

The country is facing one of the worst outbreaks in the world, with 77 people reported dead so far. In all, 2,336 people have been infected in Iran since the COVID-19 outbreak.

An Indian couple, working in a Singaporean cargo ship, was also admitted to a hospital in Odisha after the man developed mild fever on its arrival at Paradip port from China.

Six people are also quarantined in Mumbai and Pune for possible infection, said the health department of the Maharashtra government.

Visas cancelled

The Union Health Ministry said all regular visas/e-visas granted on or before March 3 to nationals of Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan, who have not yet entered India, stand suspended.

On February 4, India had cancelled the existing visas for Chinese nationals and foreigners who had visited the neighbouring country in the preceding two-week period, following the outbreak of Coronavirus which has now spread to over 60 countries and claimed over 3,100 lives. Over 90,000 have been infected.

Visa on arrival (VoA) issued on or before March 3 to Japanese and South Korean nationals, who have not yet entered India, have also been suspended.

The ministry said diplomats, officials of the United Nations and other international bodies, Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cardholders and aircrew from above countries are exempted from such restriction on entry. However, their medical screening is compulsory.

The ministry asked all Indian citizens to refrain from travel to China, Iran, South Korea, Italy and asked them to avoid non-essential travel to other COVID-19 affected countries.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) asked airlines and airports to take specific measures, such as providing protective gears like surgical masks and gloves to crew members and passengers and having multiple hand sanitising points in terminals. It also said that airports and airlines must ensure that each aircraft arriving from South Korea, Japan and Italy is subjected to disinfection process before the boarding begins for the next flight on the plane.

States step up vigil

The southern states of Telangana, Karnataka and Kerala on Tuesday stepped up vigil, especially at airports, bus stops and railway stations.

Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja said the state government has decided to be more vigilant. Although no ban can be imposed on foreigners participating in the annual 'Attukal Pongala' festival, one of the largest religious congregations of women, to be held in Thiruvananthapuram on March 9, the health team would visit and examine those participating, she said.

The Andhra Pradesh government said there was no impact of the deadly virus in the state but the health machinery was on full alert to handle the situation.

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The Indian Navy has also postponed a multi-nation mega naval exercise ‘Milan 2020’, which was scheduled to be held off the coast of Visakhapatnam, as part of precautionary measures against coronavirus infection.

(With inputs from agencies)

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