With as many as 75 fresh cases being reported on Friday, the number of COVID-19 positive persons in the country stood at 236, the ICMR said.
Of these 32 are foreigners and 23 persons had been discharged after treatment. Previously, the Government had informed the Lok Sabha that 276 Indians had tested positive for the deadly disease abroad.
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Several States have imposed prohibitory orders to deal with the pandemic, more trains were cancelled as the country went into a semi-lock down mode.
In an advisory to hospitals and medical institutions, the Union Health Ministry said all pneumonia patients must be notified to the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme so that they can be tested for COVID-19. It added that no suspected COVID-19 patient should be turned away from any hospital, and the admission of any such patient should be notified immediately. Senior Health Ministry officials also noted that they may now soon rope-in private labs for COVID-19 testing with a capping price for testing at ₹5000, which is subjected to review.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a video-conference with Chief Ministers and said the COVID-19 Economic Response Task Force would devise a suitable approach to effectively tackling the economic challenge.
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He advised Chief Ministers to ensure that all steps are taken and all advisories are adhered to in order to ensure the safety of citizens.
“No stone should be left unturned in our common endeavors to fight COVID-19,” an official release quoted Mr. Modi as saying. As the number of cases in Maharashtra rose to 52, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray called for more testing laboratories during the meeting with the Prime Minister.
The new cases were in Mumbai, Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad.
In Kerala 12 new cases, including five Britishers, were reported, taking the total number of cases to 37 even as more than 44,000 persons are under observation, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said.
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Continuing with its precautionary measures, Tamil Nadu imposed restrictions on vehicular traffic from neighbouring Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Only vehicles carrying essential supplies people travelling for inevitable reasons would be allowed. The State has also suspended bus and Metro Rail services on Sunday next as the Prime Minister has called for a ‘Janata Curfew’.
Monitoring of contacts
The Health Ministry said 6,700 contacts of the 223 positive cases were being monitored and that the average age of the five deceased was 64 years. Four Indians have died in the country and one in Iran.
Friday also saw the death of a 69-year-old Italian tourist who had “recovered” from the novel coronavirus at a private hospital in Jaipur. The man died after suffering a massive cardiac arrest late on Thursday night, SMS Medical College principal Sudhir Bhandari said.
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The Health Ministry said the death of the tourist was not due to COVID-19 as he had been discharged after he recovered.
The Ministry refused to call the death of the 70-year-old Italian as a COVID-death in Jaipur stating that the deceased had been discharged after he recovered and had died of cardiac arrest. “He was a chain smoker and died while getting treatment of other ailments in another hospital,'' said Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Health Ministry. Globally, there have been over 244,000 cases reported and the death toll breached the 10,000 mark.
According to a release issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), a total of 206 individuals had been found positive among suspected cases and contacts of known positive cases.
At the press briefing, ICMR officials reiterated that they had no plans to increase surveillance and that the government was sticking to its approach of sampling 20 patients with symptoms of respiratory diseases across the 60-odd labs to ascertain if there was evidence of community transmission.
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Scaling up testing too rapidly, ICMR’s Raman Gangakhedkar said, would strain resources as well increase costs to the government and as individuals. “If out of 100, only 1 tests positive then that is not an optimum utilisation of resources. We are approaching this according to a strategy and based on the cases confirmed will scale up as required," he said in response to questions from reporters.
While the number of cases from India had nearly doubled in three days, Mr. Lav Agarwal said that instructions had been given to states to increase ventilator capacity, that would be needed to care for those with severe pulmonary disease. However no numbers on such infrastructure were made available.
Mr. Agarwal asked people to use the toll free number 1075 for any query and said that the government is working on preventive approach.
“Our PM has called for Janta curfew, people have to remember that our one-day cooperation will help delay and break the chain of transmission,”Agarwal said.
To prevent the spread of Coronavirus, the Army issued a fresh set of guidelines on Friday -- the number of staffers at Army Headqurters in the capital have been reduced with effect from March 23 by introducing work from home in batches.
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Under this, 35% officers and 50% Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO) and Other Ranks (OR) to work from home adhering to home quarantine for one week starting 23 March 2020. Second group will proceed on home quarantine on March 30. In addition, to avoid crowding at entry and exit points, personnel attending office ave been asked to adhere to staggered timings (0900 - 1730 hours; 0945 - 1815 hours), the Army said.