There are 81 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, in India, a health ministry official said this evening, adding that a further 4,000 potential cases had been identified through contract tracing and were being tracked. Officials from multiple central ministries, including Home, Civil Aviation and Health, addressed reporters in the national capital and cautioned against panicking, saying the outbreak was “not a health emergency”.
Dr Raman R Gangakhedkar, the Director of the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), who was also at the press briefing, said that overall 6,700 samples had been tested for COVID-19 across 52 centres in the country; this is set to increase to 65 centres soon.
“Without ramping up, at current capacity we can conduct up to 10,000 tests in a day for. If the outbreak gets bigger and we have to ramp up, we will be able to increase it to 20,000 tests in a day,” he said, noting that 1 lakh testing kits were in circulation and a further 2 lakh had been ordered.
Government officials listed measures being taken to contain the virus, including using the State Disaster Response Fund and limiting international traffic to 19 of 37 check posts.
“Only 19 of 37 land border check posts will be open. The rest will be closed to international traffic,” a home ministry official said, adding that no decision had been taken yet on closing the Kartarpur corridor. “The matter is under consideration. As of now, status quo remains”.
The officials also spoke about the evacuation of Indians stranded in Iran and Italy, noting that a second batch of people from Iran had landed in Mumbai earlier today and that a medical team had been sent to Rome to test people before bringing them back.
“Today a flight with 44 passengers from Iran landed in Mumbai. They have been shifted to a Navy quarantine centre. Another will land in Delhi tomorrow. A third will be go to Milan; this will leave on Saturday and return by Sunday,” a civil aviation ministry official said.
“Ambassadors in Italy and Iran are in touch with governments there to help Indian citizens,” an external affairs ministry officer added.
A plane carrying 58 Indians brought back from Iran landed earlier this week. In total 1,199 samples had been collected from Iran and brought back for testing. Overall India has evacuated 1,031 people, including those from the Maldives, the US, Madagascar and China.
Questions were also raised over the status of more than 700 employees of a leather factory in Noida, after one employee tested positive earlier today. It was revealed that the workers were under observation but not all had been placed in home quarantine.
Meanwhile, officials also confirmed India’s first COVID-19-related death – a 76-year-old man in north Karnataka’s Kalaburagi district who died on Tuesday night. He had returned from Saudi Arabia on February 29 and was asymptomatic on arrival in Hyderabad.
The COVID-19 outbreak originated in a food market in China’s Wuhan district in December last year and has, so far, killed more than 5,000 people while infecting 100,000 more.
The World Health Organisation has declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic, meaning it has spread worldwide and affected huge number of people.
In a series of tweets, the WHO said it was “deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity (of the virus), and by the alarming levels of inaction”.