New Delhi: India reported the first case of novel coronavirus from Kerala on Thursday, saying a female student of a university in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, has tested positive for the virus that has killed 170 people in China and is spreading worldwide.
"The patient tested positive for novel coronavirus and is in isolation in a hospital," the Health Ministry said. It added the student is stable and being closely monitored.
Priya Abraham, director of ICMR-NIV in Pune, said 49 samples have been tested till now at the National Institute of Virology and one sample has tested positive.
"The positive sample belongs to a student from Kerala who was studying in Wuhan. Now a next test known as 'next-gen sequencing test' will be done on her sample and the final result will be declared till tomorrow evening," Abraham said.
The virus strain not seen before has spread to at least 17 countries, where authorities have been scrambling to contain the epidemic and evacuate their citizens from the worst-hit Hubei Province in China. Chinese authorities have confirmed over 1,700 new cases of the coronavirus.
India, which is placed by a study at the 23rd place among "high-risk" countries where the virus can spread, has requested China to operate two flights to bring back its nationals from Hubei Province.
Authorities have been screening patients at airports, ports and borders for possible coronavirus infection and the Health Ministry has urged people to report themselves if they show symptoms of coronavirus such as cold and respiratory distress on the 24x7 helpline (011-23978046).
The ministry has asked people to refrain from travelling to China and the states bordering Nepal — Uttarakhand, UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Sikkim — have stepped up vigil.
"Per day a total of 9-10 samples are received at the facility (NIV-Pune) for testing. All facilities and capacity is available for testing of samples and it takes a day to test a sample for coronavirus (nCoV)," Abraham said.
Hundreds of people have been quarantined in hospitals, including over 800 in Kerala, and are being monitored by doctors, according to ministry officials.
Three men kept under observation in an isolation ward of Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Delhi for possible exposure to nCoV have tested negative, a Health Ministry official said.
On Wednesday, the only two Indian carriers that fly to China — IndiGo and Air India — announced suspension of most of their flights to the country, joining other airlines based in Asia, North America and Europe which have restricted operations to the region.
India has increased the number of airports from seven to 21 where thermal screening of passengers is being done for possible exposure to nCoV. These include airports at Gaya, Guwahati, Visakhapatnam, Varanasi, Goa, Bhubaneswar and Lucknow.
Apart from NIV-Pune, the health ministry has established four more laboratories to test samples at Alleppey, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Mumbai.
The health ministry has advised those who have recently travelled to China (within last 14 days) or had possible contact with an nCoV-infected person, to stay at home, in isolation for 14 days after returning and sleep in a separate room.
It has advised them to cover nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing and avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu like symptoms (maintain a distance of at least 1 meter from any individual).
"In case you develop fever, cough or difficulty in breathing anytime within 28 days of return from China: Call at Ministry of Health, Govt. of India's control room no +91-11-2397 8046 for further information. Wear a mask immediately and report to nearest medical facility as advised Do not panic," the health ministry said.