India Declares COVID-19 ‘Notified Disaster’, Many Public Places Shut


NEW DELHI – The Central government has decided to treat coronavirus as a “notified disaster” for the purpose of providing assistance under the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) and has announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 4 lakhs to families of those who die of the infection.

The disaster management division of the Union Home Ministry has issued a letter to the Chief Secretaries of all the states.

The letter states, “The Central government, keeping in view the spread of COVID-19 virus in India and the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), by way of a special one-time dispensation, has decided to treat it as a notified disaster for the purpose of providing assistance under SDRF”.

The home ministry said funds earmarked under the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) can be utilised for procurement of essential equipment and measures taken to quarantine people.

Two persons — a 76-year-old man from Karnataka and a 68-year-old woman in Delhi — have died from coronavirus, which has been declared a global pandemic by WHO and has claimed over 5,000 lives across the world.

Several states ordered closure of schools, colleges, public institutions and cinema halls.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration issued prohibitory orders in Kishtwar and Ramban districts, restricting assembly of more than five persons at any public place.

The Goa government also announced closure of casinos, swimming pools and pubs from Sunday midnight.

The Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) suspended all classes, including sessional tests, till March 22 as a precautionary measure.

All conferences, workshops, educational tours and sports programmes have been postponed till March 31 though examinations of the university and schools will be held according to schedule.

The Punjab government ordered a shutdown of cinema halls and banned public gatherings including cultural events till further notice to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The last rites of the woman who died here were performed at the CNG crematorium at Nigambodh ghat here under supervision of medical authorities.

Doctors from the Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) hospital here and from MCD oversaw the funeral after the crematorium staff reached out to the authorities seeking directives on ensuring that the infection didn’t spread from the body.

The health ministry said it has begun working on framing guidelines for handling the bodies of those who die of the disease.

Though it is unlikely that coronavirus infection could spread from handling of a body, the guidelines are being drafted to dispel any misconception and raise awareness regarding spread of the disease from a deceased, a health ministry official said.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri at an event in Hyderabad said domestic passenger traffic was down by 10 to 15 per cent owing to the killer virus.

The health ministry said home quarantine is meant “to protect you and your loved ones”.

According to the health ministry, Kerala has reported 19 positive cases, Maharashtra 14, Uttar Pradesh 11, Delhi seven, Karnataka six, Ladakh three, Jammu and Kashmir two, and Rajasthan, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab one case each.

The total number of 84 confirmed cases also includes 17 foreigners — 16 Italian tourists and a Canadian, it said.

Seven persons who tested positive including five from Uttar Pradesh and one each from Rajasthan and Delhi have been discharged after treatment, a senior health ministry official said.

Special Secretary in the health ministry, Sanjeeva Kumar, said more than 4,000 people who had come in contact with those testing positive have been identified through contact tracing and are under surveillance.

He further said that there have been cases of people not willing to be quarantined despite coming in contact with people testing positive.

Stranded Indians returning

He informed that a Mahan Air flight bringing back Indian passengers from Iran will land in Mumbai on Saturday midnight. A special Air India flight is also being sent to Milan in Italy on Saturday to bring back Indian students, he added.

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

The government on Friday declared masks, including N95, and hand sanitisers as ‘essential commodities’ under Essential Commodities Act in the wake of the coronavirus scare leading to shortages and black marketing of these items.

These items will remain under essential commodities segment till June-end, a move aimed at ensuring availability at reasonable prices and cracking down on hoarders and black marketeers.

Also, 12,29,363 passengers have been screened from 11,406 flights at the 30 designated airports. In addition, instructions to enforce quarantine for all incoming passengers as per the guidelines are being implemented, Kumar stated.

The US Embassy and Consulates in India cancelled all visa appointments from March 16 in the wake of coronavirus outbreak.

The RSS suspended a three-day annual meeting of its highest decision-making body scheduled to begin on Saturday in Bengaluru.

Infosys evacuated one of its satellite office buildings in Bengaluru after the Karnataka government advised IT and other professionals working in air-conditioned places to work from home for time being, for about a week, to prevent the spread of the virus.

West Bengal sealed its border with Bhutan, restricting movement of goods and travellers. The move came after Bhutan issued a notification to the administration of neighbouring Alipurduar district informing it about a halt in tourist and business activities in the wake of coronavirus outbreak.

In Kerala, an American couple who allegedly gave the slip to police after being admitted to a coronavirus isolation ward following complaints of fever and cough, was traced to Kochi airport and placed under observation.

They had come to Kochi from London via Doha on March 9, attended a Kathakali show in the port city, went for a houseboat ride the next day at Alapzuha, stayed at a Fort Kochi resort, before going to varkala near thiruvananthapuram and returned to Alapuzha, police said.

Four persons, who were kept in an isolation ward at a government-run hospital in Nagpur for suspected coronavirus infection, returned home even as the hospital staff requested them against doing so as their test results were awaited. They, however, returned later and the tests were also negative for coronavirus.

Indian Railway takes measures

The Central Railway and Western Railway have withdrawn curtains from AC coaches in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“As per the extant instructions, curtains and blankets provided in AC coaches are not washed every trip. In order to prevent spread of COVID-19, blankets and curtains should be immediately withdrawn from service till further orders,” said Western Railway PRO (Public Relations Officer).

“Passengers should be advised to bring their own blankets in their own interest. Wide publicly should be given to this effect. Some quantity of additional bed-sheets may be kept for any exigencies,” the official added.

Govt Takes U-Turn On Rs 4L Ex-Gratia

The Central government on Saturday took a u-turn, hours after it was announced that an ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh will be given to the families of those who died of the novel coronavirus.

The Centre earlier mentioned that ‘Rs 4 lakh will be given for per deceased person including those involved in response activities, subject to certification regarding cause of death from appropriate authority’.

According to latest announcement, the document had no mention of the aforementioned point, New Delhi based India Today reported.

Apart from Rs 4 lakh ex-gratia, the Centre earlier also mentioned assistance towards the Covid-19 positive person requiring hospitalisation, but according to the latest announcement, this too has been withdrawn by the government.

Within hours of announcement, the Centre withdrew Rs 4 lakh ex-gratia for kin of those who died of the novel coronavirus and in addition, now, the Centre will no longer bear the cost of hospitalisation for treatment either, the report added.

Pak To Join Video Conference Of SAARC Nations

Pakistan on Saturday agreed to participate in the meeting of the SAARC nations through video conferencing to discuss measures to tackle the deadly coronavirus pandemic that has killed over 5,000 people across the globe.

According to reports, Pakistan agreed to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal to attend the meet aimed to discuss tackling of the pandemic.

Pakistan’s response to the proposal came late in the night with the country’s Foreign Office Spokesperson Aisha Farooqui saying the threat of COVID-19 required coordinated efforts at global and regional levels.

“We have communicated that SAPM (Special Assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister) on Health (Zafar Mirza) will be available to participate in the video conference of SAARC member countries on the issue,” she said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lead India at a video conference of all SAARC nations at 5 pm on Sunday to chalk out a joint strategy to fight coronavirus in the region, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said.

Modi on Friday proposed formulation of a joint strategy by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations to fight coronavirus, a suggestion that was backed by all the member states.

“Coming together for common good! 15 March, 1700 IST. PM Narendra Modi will lead India at the video conference of all SAARC member countries, to chalk out a strong common strategy to fight COVID-19 in the region,” MEA Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in a tweet.

Calling on the SAARC nations to set an example for the world, Modi had reached out to the eight-member regional grouping and pitched for a video conference among its leaders to chalk out a strong strategy to fight coronavirus, which has killed nearly 5,000 people globally.

His appeal got a prompt response from 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 and the Afghan government, all of whom welcomed the proposal.

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