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India reports first coronavirus death


New Delhi

India reported its first death due to coronavirus on Thursday as the number of positive cases soared to 74, with authorities taking emergency measures to contain its spread like shutting down schools, colleges and cinema halls in the national capital and some other places.

The Union health ministry confirmed that a 76-year-old man from Kalaburagi in Karnataka, who died on Tuesday, was infected with coronavirus.

Samples of the man, who had recently returned from Saudi Arabia,  “has been confirmed for #COVID19”, Karnataka Health Minister B Sriramulu said.

“The necessary contact tracing, isolation & other measures as per protocol are being carried out,”
he tweeted.

Fourteen fresh cases have been reported from several states, including nine from Maharashtra, the Union health ministry said on Thursday. 

As the Centre and the states ramped up their efforts to tackle novel coronavirus, which has claimed at least 4,600 lives globally and affected nearly 125,293, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the countrymen not to panic and asserted that the government was fully vigilant. 

Apart from directing the Union ministers not to travel abroad in the upcoming days, Modi also urged people to avoid non-essential travel, saying, “we can break the chain of spread and ensure safety of all by avoiding large gatherings.”

A day after it

suspended all visas, except a few categories such as diplomatic and employment, till April 15, the government also announced that three planes will be sent in the next three days to bring back Indians stranded in Iran, one of the worst coronavirus-hit country.

The Union health ministry said no community transmission of the virus has been observed and there have only been cases of local transmission so far.

With the novel coronavirus being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, Raman R Gangakhedkar, the head of the Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases-I, a division of the Indian Council of Medical Research, said even though the virus is difficult to isolate, scientists at the National Institute of Virology in Pune have been successful in finding about 11 isolates, but developing a vaccine will take at least one-and-a-half to two years.

Giving a state-wise breakup, the ministry said Delhi reported six positive cases and Uttar Pradesh 10. Karnataka has four cases, Maharashtra 11 and Ladakh three.

Rajasthan, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab have reported one case each. Kerala has recorded 17 cases, including three patients who were discharged last month.

Lav Aggarwal, the joint secretary in the ministry, said 1,500 people who came in contact with these 74 infected people were under rigorous observation while over 30,000 people across the country were under community surveillance.

The Delhi government declared coronavirus an epidemic and said all those schools and colleges where exams are over should be shut down as also cinema halls till March 31.

The decision was taken at a high-level meeting attended by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, LG Anil Baijal and top government officials.

Disinfecting all public places, including government and private offices and shopping malls has been made compulsory, Kejriwal said.

Uttarakhand and Manipur governments also announced closure of schools till March 31.

On its part, defence ministry has set up seven more quarantine facilities, especially for Indian citizens being brought to back from the coronavirus-hit countries, an official said. The facilities have been set up at Jaisalmer, Suratgadh, Jhansi, Jodhpur, Deolali, Kolkata and Chennai.

Aggarwal said the government has made 52 laboratories functional for testing samples while 57 labs have been designated for helping in sample collection to enhance diagnosis and detection capacity of the disease.

The health officials also said that India’s efforts to deal with coronavirus are in consonance with WHO and the focus is on preventive approach.

The government has stepped up vigil and following a strong contact tracing system to ensure anyone who has come in touch with the infected are not missed out, they said, adding till now, 11,14,025 people have been screened at 30 designated airports in India.

Asked whether high temperature kills the coronavirus, officials said there was no study or evidence till now to suggest that.

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