Several states across India went into battle mode to contain the spread of COVID-19, shutting down schools, theatres and colleges, and many public events, including the Indian Premier League, were postponed as the Union Health ministry on Friday put the number of cases at 81.
The tally of 81, seven more since Thursday night, includes a 76-year-old man from Karnataka who became the country's first coronavirus fatality and 17 foreign nationals, Health Ministry officials said.
Cases of the infection have been reported from at least 11 states and union territories, including Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Kerala, where three patients were discharged last month after they recovered.
Addressing reporters, officials said coronavirus – a pandemic that has infected 1,31,500 people in 116 countries and territories and killed more than 4,900 – is not a health emergency and there is no need to panic. They added that India has evacuated 1,031 people, including from Maldives, US, Madagascar and China.
The Centre has also decided to allow international traffic only through 19 border checkposts out of 37 and continue the suspension of Indo-Bangladesh cross border passenger trains and buses till April 15, or earlier, if so decided.
Officials also disclosed that 42,000 people across the country are under community surveillance.
Taking stock of the situation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed a video conference of SAARC leaders to chalk out a joint strategy and set an example for the world.
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"Our planet is battling the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus. At various levels, governments and people are trying their best to combat it," Modi said on Twitter. South Asia, which is home to a significant number of the global population, should leave no stone unturned to ensure that the people are healthy, he said.
Amid speculation over the ongoing Budget Session being shortened, Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi told PTI, "There is no question of curtailing the session."
While states such as Karnataka, Odisha, Delhi and Bihar went into virtual shutdown mode, the under-pressure BCCI suspended the start of this year's IPL cricket tournament from March 29 to April 15.
"The Board of Control for Cricket in India has decided to suspend IPL 2020 till 15th April 2020, as a precautionary measure against the ongoing Novel Corona Virus (COVID-19) situation," BCCI secretary Jay Shah said in a statement.
The statement made it clear that it's a "suspension" and "not postponement", which means there is no clarity on whether the event will start on April 15. Even if it starts on April 15, it is expected to happen behind closed doors without the fans.
The decision came hours after the Delhi government, which on Thursday announced that schools, colleges and cinema halls would be closed till March 31, said it was also stopping all sports gatherings, including IPL 2020.
Sisodia said district magistrates have been asked to ensure that all directives pertaining to coronavirus are implemented. A day after the country's first coronavirus death was reported from Kalaburagi in the state, the Karnataka government announced a lock-down of malls, cinema theatres, pubs and night clubs for a week.
Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa also issued instructions to stop all kinds of exhibitions, summer camps, conferences, marriage events and birthday parties. "We will close all universities for a week in the entire state," he told reporters.
Tech giant Google confirmed that an employee of its Bengaluru office, who had returned from Greece, was diagnosed with COVID-19. In Kalaburagi town, 46 people who were in direct contact with the 76-year old man who died on Tuesday night were placed under quarantine, district officials said, adding that 31 were categorised as "high risk" and 13 as "low risk". Four family members of the man have displayed flu symptoms and their swab samples have been sent for testing.
In Odisha, the Naveen Patnaik government announced that educational institutions would be closed till March 31 but provided an exception for holding exams. He said the government has earmarked Rs 200 crore to combat the coronavirus threat and declared COVID-19 a "disaster". Non-essential official gatherings such as seminars, workshops and conferences are to be cancelled, Patnaik said. Social gatherings and assemblies like religious functions, marriage receptions and parties will be regulated by local authorities. Cinema halls, swimming pools and gyms in the state will be closed as well.
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Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University and Jamia Millia Islamia suspended classes in Delhi. Other universities such as Jindal University in Sonepat in Haryana announced the university would be open but there would be no classes till March 29.
As concern mounted, people scrambled to change their travel plans. At an Air India office in Delhi, for instance, there were crowds of people waiting to change their tickets. Aviation watchdog Directorate General of Civil Aviation has asked international airlines to consider waiving ticket cancellation and reschedule charges or look at providing any other incentives. States which had not reported any case were also on alert.
Schools, colleges, coaching institutes, zoos and parks in Bihar will be shut till March 31 over the coronavirus threat, an official said.
Vishwajit Rane, health minister in the tourism hub of Goa, said the government will issue a circular asking hotels and industries to take preventive measures in the wake of the coronavirus scare.
Meanwhile, all 112 people admitted to an ITBP quarantine facility in Delhi for over a fortnight tested negative for the coronavirus. All of them were evacuated last month from Wuhan in China.