New Delhi/Leh: The Indian Army reported its first case of coronavirus after a 34-year-old soldier of Ladakh Scout regiment tested positive, prompting the force to strengthen its check and prevention mechanism and suspend war games and training activities, as the total number of cases rose to 151 in the country on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, in a written reply in Lok Sabha, Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan said the total number of Indians infected by coronavirus abroad was 276 – 255 in Iran, 12 in UAE, five in Italy and one each in Hong Kong, Kuwait, Rwanda and Sri Lanka.
With most of the schools and colleges shut down, the Human Resource Development Ministry announced that it will launch e-classes on Swayam Prabha DTH channels for school students, while the CBSE has postponed class 10 and 12 board exams and said the examination will be rescheduled after March 31.
The soldier from the Ladakh Scout regiment tested positive for the virus after he came in contact with his father, who had returned from a pilgrimage in Iran by an Air India flight on February 20 and tested positive for COVID-19, army sources said.
A resident of Chuhot village in Leh, the soldier was on leave from February 25 and rejoined duty on March 2, sources said, adding he was quarantined on March 7 and tested positive on March 16. Even the soldier’s brother has tested positive, sources said.
While there were 14 fresh cases of coronavirus reported since Tuesday, the first case in the armed forces prompted the army to further strengthen its check and prevention mechanism by taking additional steps, including checking soldiers for flu symptoms on their return from leave and cancelling non-essential travel and conferences. The army also announced suspension of war games, conferences and training activities.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the nation on Thursday evening on the coronavirus outbreak and ways to contain it, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan reviewed the preparedness of hospitals in terms of availability of testing kits, personal protective equipment, medicines and isolation wards.
The Swiss firm Roche Diagnostics India received the licence for conducting coronavirus tests after approval from drug regulator DCGI, making it the first private firm to get such permission after the government decided to allow accredited private labs to test for COVID-19, a senior health ministry official said.
The threat of coronavirus also continued to impact the road and air traffic as senior railway officials informed a parliamentary panel that more than 60 per cent tickets were cancelled in March so far due to the outbreak while GoAir said it has terminated contracts of expat pilots amid curtailed operations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways also announced reduction in its flights to India, two days after the government stated that passengers coming from UAE from March 18 onward would be compulsorily quarantined for 14 days.
With a surge in demand for soaps, floor cleaners and thermal scanners, Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said the Centre is closely monitoring the prices of these items. Normally, the ministry keeps track of prices of 22 essential commodities but recently, it has included face masks and hand sanitisers under the Essential Commodities Act.
The total tally of 151 includes 25 foreign nationals and the three persons who died after getting the virus, which has killed 7,500 people globally and infected nearly 200,000 others.
As per the Union Health Ministry, over 5,700 people, who had come in contact with these positive cases, are under rigorous surveillance.
Giving a state-wise break-up of the confirmed COVID-19 cases, officials said Delhi has so far reported ten cases which include one foreigner, while Uttar Pradesh has recorded 16 cases, including one foreigner. Maharashtra has 42 cases, including three foreigners, while Kerala has recorded 27 cases which include two foreign nationals. Karnataka has 11 coronavirus patients. The number of cases in Ladakh rose to eight and in Jammu and Kashmir three. Telangana has reported six cases which include two foreigners.
Rajasthan has also reported four cases including that of two foreigners. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Uttarakhand and Punjab have reported one case each. In Haryana, there are 17 cases, which include 14 foreigners. According to the ministry’s data, 14 people have been discharged so far, including the three patients from Kerala who were discharged last month. While there was no change in the health ministry data, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir reported three cases and one case respectively late on Wednesday evening.
Meanwhile, several opted for self-quarantine as a matter of precaution, including former Union minister and BJP MP Suresh Prabhu, who quarantined himself at his residence for the next 14 days after he returned from Saudi Arabia despite testing negative for the infection.
Muraleedharan also had announced on Tuesday that he has quarantined himself at his residence in the national capital as a precautionary measure after a medical institute he had visited recently in south India reported a COVID-19 case. Though, he had tested negative for the infection.
An Army officer attached to the College of Military Engineering in Pune was asked to self-quarantine after he showed symptoms of flu, sources say.
A batch of 195 Indians stranded in the coronavirus-hit Iran was brought back by a special plane on Wednesday evening, an official said. They landed at Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer airport and were shifted to an Army’s wellness facility after screening, defence spokesperson Col Sombit Ghosh said.
With the arrival of the fresh batch, the number of quarantined people at the Army facility in the Jaisalmer Military Station increased to 484, he said. The first batch of 236 people had arrived on Sunday in two flights while the second group of 53 Indians came on Monday.
Giving the details of Indians in Iran, one of the worst-affected countries by coronavirus, Muraleedharan in his written reply said the nationals include about 1,100 pilgrims mainly from Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir and Maharashtra. There are also nearly 300 students primarily from J&K, about 1,000 fishermen, including from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, and others who are on a long-term stay in Iran for pursuing their livelihood and religious studies, he added.
Asked about steps taken by the Centre to help Indians stranded in Iran due to the coronavirus outbreak, Muraleedharan said the government has made focussed efforts for the safe return of Indians from that country. A team of six Indian health officials has been deputed to Iran in order to set up testing and sampling facilities there, he said.
Muraleedharan said 1,706 samples have been taken, including from pilgrims, students and other Indians stranded in Iran. These are tested at medical facilities including the National Institute of Virology, Pune, he said.
In a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the National Restaurant Association of India asks all members to shut down restaurants till March 31 or till such time when no new cases are reported.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court took suo motu cognisance of the non-availability of mid-day meals and issued notices to the states and Union territories asking them how children were being provided mid-day meals amid the shut down.
The government on Tuesday banned the entry of passengers from Afghanistan, Philippines and Malaysia to India with immediate effect, according to an additional travel advisory. This instruction is a temporary measure and shall be in force till March 31 and will be reviewed subsequently.
The government has also banned the entry of passengers from the European Union countries, Turkey and the UK from March 18 till March 31.