COVID-19 now a pandemic, says WHO; India confirms 60 cases

Over 1,18,000 positive cases have been reported globally across 114 countries

Updated - March 12, 2020 01:18 am IST

Published - March 11, 2020 10:32 pm IST - NEW DELHI

(From left) World Health Organisation Health Emergencies Programme Director Michael Ryan, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WHO Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove attend a daily press briefing on COVID-19 virus at the WHO headquarters in Geneva on March 11, 2020.

(From left) World Health Organisation Health Emergencies Programme Director Michael Ryan, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WHO Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove attend a daily press briefing on COVID-19 virus at the WHO headquarters in Geneva on March 11, 2020.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on March 11 said that according to its assessment, COVID-19 “can be characterised as a pandemic .”

“WHO has been assessing this outbreak round-the-clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” it said.

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“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

WHO noted with concern that 1,18,000 positive cases have been reported globally in 114 countries and more than 90% of cases are in just four countries.

Dr. Ghebreyesus said 81 countries had not reported any COVID-19 cases, and 57 countries had reported 10 case or less.

COVID-19  |  Interactive map of confirmed coronavirus cases in India  

“We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic,” he said.

Visas suspended

With 60 confirmed cases of the virus in India, the Central government on March 11 night issued a new travel advisory stating that all existing visas, except diplomatic, official, U.N./International Organisations, employment, project visas, stand suspended till April 15 and this order will come into effect from March 13 at the port of departure.

The new advisory, issued following a meeting of the Group of Ministers, noted that visa-free travel facility granted to OCI card holders is kept in abeyance till April 15 and also comes into effect from March 13.

It added that any foreign national who intends to travel to India for compelling reason may contact the nearest Indian Mission and all incoming travellers, including Indian nationals, arriving from or having visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after Feb 15 shall be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days.

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“Provision for testing primarily for students/compassionate cases in Italy to be made and collection for samples to be organised accordingly. Those tested negative will be allowed to travel and will be quarantined on arrival in India for 14 days,” the release added.

It also noted that international traffic through land borders will be restricted.

Fresh cases

Meanwhile the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has risen to 60 in India on March 11 with two fresh positive cases — one each from Delhi and Rajasthan being reported — according to a release issued by the Union Health Ministry. 

However, as per State health officials, the number of confirmed cases may be up to 65, but the cases are not confirmed by the Centre. 

“There are now 60 positive cases of COVID-19 in the country [including the 3 cases from Kerala discharged earlier],” noted the Health Ministry which has also confirmed cases from Kerala (8), Karnataka and Maharashtra which were reported earlier this week by the State governments. 

Kerala has till now reported 17 cases which include the three patients who were discharged last month following recovery.

Explained | How is India containing COVID-19?

Pune authorities said three more persons , who were part of a 40-member tour group which recently travelled to Dubai, have tested positive for COVID-19. This takes the tally of positive cases in Pune district to eight and that in Maharashtra to 10.

2 IT staff test positive

Two employees working with IT companies Dell and Mindtree have tested positive for coronavirus, according to company statements. However, their locations were not disclosed.

Army sources said on Wednesday that 83 individuals who arrived from Italy on AI flight AI138 on March 11 have been quarantined at Manesar. 

“The evacuees will be monitored for two weeks by doctors. If any individual is suspected to be infected, he/she will be shifted to isolation facility,” they said.

“About 119 people who were on board Diamond Princess cruise ship off the Japan coast and brought back in a special flight from Japan and currently at Manesar will complete their two weeks of quarantine on Wednesday. Once the final test results are out, which are expected by Thursday, they will be allowed to go home with their detailed documentation sent to the District/ State surveillance units for further surveillance,” the source noted.

948 evacuated

India has so far evacuated 948 passengers from coronavirus-affected countries. Of these, 900 are Indian citizens and 48 belonging to different nationalities”.

A 76-year-old man suspected to be infected with COVID-19 has died in Karnataka’s Kalaburagi, District Health and Family Welfare department said on March 11. “Mohammed Hussain Siddiqui’s swab samples have been sent to a lab in Bengaluru. The report is awaited,” department officials said. Mr. Siddiqui had recently returned from Saudi Arabia.

The Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways issued an advisory to reduce the spread of the virus and noted that all necessary steps may be undertaken in public transport vehicles to ensure sanitation of seats, handles and bars. “The hygiene and sanitation may be stepped up at all the bus terminals and the display of public health massages may be ensured on public transport vehicles,” noted the Ministry.

Doctors to Italy

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in his statement in the Rajya Sabha noted that India will be sending a team of doctors to Italy by Thursday for testing its nationals for coronavirus to bring them back, while samples of 529 more people have been brought from Iran.

He said the Indian government was working with the Iranian authorities to operate some limited commercial flights for facilitating early return of the remaining Indians after testing them. He added that Iran and Italy were two “focal points” for the government as any “worldwide activity” will only add to the panic. “There are over 6,000 Indians in various provinces of Iran, which include 1,100 pilgrims, nearly 300 students and about 1,000 fishermen. The others are on a longer term stay for earning livelihood and education,” he added.

Cases have also come in from Pune and Jaipur though not confirmed by the Central government.

Also an 85-year-old man, who returned from Dubai to Jaipur on February 28, was sent to the isolation ward in Sawai Man Singh Government Hospital on March 11 after he tested positive for COVID-19. His confirmatory test with fresh samples was carried out after his initial test turned out to be positive on march 10.

The Union Home Ministry, in an order on March 11, transferred some of its power to the Union Health Ministry for tackling the COVID-19 if the outbreak turns out to be a disaster of national proportions. This will allow the Health Ministry to act as “coordinating and monitoring body for disaster management”; to prepare a national plan to deal with the emergency and “coordinate and monitor the implementation of the National Policy.”

Classes suspended in J&K

The J&K administration has suspended classwork in all educational institutions, including schools and universities, till March 31. "The public is urged to avoid unnecessary travel and use of public transport," the J&K spokesman said. This comes as one positive case of COVID-19 was reported in Jammu two days ago.

(With PTI inputs)

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