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India offers $10 mn for COVID-19 emergency fund; cases rise to 107

India offers $10 mn for COVID-19 emergency fund; cases rise to 107

New Delhi: Amid deteriorating conditions of almost all the nations around the world due to Coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday held a video conference meeting with SAARC members wherein he proposed to set up a COVID-19 emergency fund with India committing $10 million initially for it, and asserted that the best way to deal with the pandemic was by coming together, and not growing apart.

Apart from Modi, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepalese Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, Bhutanese premier Lotay Tshering, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Special Assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister on Health Zafar Mirza, participated in the video conference.

The number of novel coronavirus cases in the country rose to 107 on Sunday, with Maharashtra reporting the highest followed by Kerala, while over 450 stranded Indians were flown back from Italy and Iran, the two worst-affected countries after China, and quarantined.

Among the eight SAARC nations, India has so far recorded the highest number of cases followed by Pakistan (20), Maldives (8), Afghanistan (7), Bangladesh (3), Sri Lanka (2), and Nepal and Bhutan (1 each).

In his opening address, Prime Minister Modi highlighted that "prepare, but don't panic" had been India's guiding mantra in dealing with coronavirus outbreak.

"We started screening people entering India from mid-January itself, while gradually increasing restrictions on travel. A step-by-step approach helped avoid panic and India made special efforts to reach out to vulnerable groups," PM Modi said.

Extending the border restrictions because of the Coronavirus outbreak, the government has suspended travel and registration of pilgrims to Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara through the corridor from Sunday midnight, besides the movement of all types of passengers to Pakistan through international border points.

Earlier, the government had announced the suspension of all types of passenger movement from 00:00 hours on March 15 through the Indo-Bangla, Indo-Nepal, Indo-Bhutan and Indo-Myanmar borders barring a few specified border checkposts.

According to the Union Health Ministry, there are 107 cases in India so far including the two persons who died in Delhi and Karnataka and 17 foreigners.

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan reviewed the status of actions taken by the states and Union Territories for prevention and containment of coronavirus and directed officials to scale up the capacity of the round-the-clock control room helpline in view of increased volume of queries.

In Kerala, 20 Dubai-bound passengers were detained at the Kochi airport after a UK national, who was under surveillance but sneaked out and joined the group, tested positive for novel coronavirus, official sources said. Earlier, the over 280 passengers of the Dubai-bound Emirates flight, which the group had taken, were offloaded at the airport.

The Mumbai Police on Sunday clamped prohibitory orders under section 144 of the CrPC to stop tour operators from conducting any kind of group tours to foreign or domestic destinations till March 31.

Elections to rural and urban local bodies in Andhra Pradesh have been put off for six weeks by the State Election Commission in view of spread of coronavirus, according to State Election Commissioner N Ramesh Kumar. They were originally scheduled for March 21.

More states ordered the closure of schools and public places like cinema halls and malls where people gather in large numbers.

The Tamil Nadu government directed the closure of all kindergarten and primary schools till March 31.

The Assam government too ordered shutting down of educational institutions, gymnasiums, swimming pools and cinema halls with immediate effect till March 29.

Following the footsteps, Uttarakhand government also has declared novel coronavirus an epidemic and shut all multiplexes, cinema halls, degree colleges and technical institutes across the state till March 31. However, the central government has asked people not to panic, saying no community transmission of the virus has been observed and there have only been a few cases of local transmission so far and that it is "not a health emergency" in India at present.

Meanwhile, the government continued to evacuate Indians stranded in coronavirus-hit Iran and Italy. A total of 218 Indians, mostly students, from Milan, landed at around 9.45 AM at the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) in Delhi and were taken to an ITBP quarantine facility in south-west Delhi's Chhawla area.

More than 230 Indians brought back from Iran reached New Delhi at about 3:15 AM and were quarantined at the Indian Army Wellness Centre in Jaisalmer, the third batch to be evacuated from that country.

They had arrived in Delhi on a Mahan Air flight from Tehran and were ferried by two Air India flights to Jaisalmer, IGI airport officials said.

Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy said all paramilitary forces, including the CRPF, the ITBP, and the BSF, have been advised to keep ready quarantine camps for COVID-19 suspects as a preparatory measure.

With the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring COVID-19 a pandemic, a health ministry official said over 4,000 people who had come in contact with 93 positive cases have been identified through contact tracing and were being tracked while 42,000 people across the country are under community surveillance.

He said all essential facilities like community surveillance, quarantine, isolation wards, adequate personal protective equipment (PPEs), trained manpower, rapid response teams are being strengthened further in all states and union territories.

An order has been placed for the procurement of an additional over 80,50,000 N95 masks and personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, the health ministry said.

India-Bangladesh passenger train services between Kolkata and cities in the neighbouring country were also suspended from Sunday as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

The Eastern Railway said services of Maitree and Bandhan Express trains will remain suspended from March 15 to April 15 or till further orders, whichever is earlier.

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