Coronavirus outbreak: No landing of international flights for a week starting Sunday

Abantika Ghosh,Avishek G Dastidar
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As India reported its fourth novel coronavirus (Covid-19) death and the total number of cases climbed to 173, the government on Thursday further tightened the lockdown, banning the landing of all international commercial passenger flights for a week from March 22. In Punjab, a 72-year-old man, who had returned from Germany via Italy on March 7 and died at a hospital in Nawanshahr district on Wednesday, tested positive. Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the ministry of health and family welfare, said he had a history of diabetes and heart disease.

With senior citizens, with comorbidities like diabetes, hypertension and asthma, accounting for all four deaths so far, the health ministry issued a fresh advisory, asking elderly citizens aged above 65 years and children below 10 years to stay at home. While 22 fresh cases have been reported, 19 have recovered so far. Extending the travel ban after barring the entry of passengers from the European Union, Turkey, UK, Afghanistan, Philippines and Malaysia earlier this week, the government banned all commercial passenger flights from March 22 till March 29 midnight. Most of the states and Union territories also imposed fresh restrictions on public transport and gatherings. In Delhi, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced the closure of restaurants, but takeaway outlets will remain open.

States have been asked to reduce the frequency of buses and metro trains to prevent crowding, and "to enforce work for home for private sector employees except those working in emergency/ essential services". The Railways cancelled 84 trains, which will not operate between March 20 and March 31, taking the number of trains cancelled in view of low occupancy and coronavirus pandemic to 155, officials said. Government offices have been asked to stagger timings and allow 50% of Group C and D staff to work from home. Agarwal, however, said this was not a lockdown.

"Lockdown is a very inappropriate word. The government's effort has been to prepare for an evolving global scenario. Our measures started from January 17. To err on the side of caution will help us," he said. Citing data from the ICMR's random sampling exercise, he said there has been no instance of community transmission of the virus in India.

Agarwal, however, refused to discuss the case of a man from Uttar Pradesh, who took a train to Tamil Nadu and was found to be positive - a situation that has raised fears of community transmission. Earlier, a 64-year-old man in Mumbai with travel history to Dubai, a 76-year-old man from Kalaburagi in Karnataka, who had returned from Saudi Arabia, and a 68-year-old woman died in Delhi. Meanwhile, on March 21, Air India will fly a dreamliner with a capacity to seat 236 passengers to Rome to evacuate Indians stranded there.