EU-India summit with PM Modi postponed, virus cases rise to 30 in India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking on Independence Day at the Red Fort in Delhi (India Today). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

NEW DELHI, Mar 6, 2020, The Asian Age. The total number of positive novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases has reached 30 in India after a Ghaziabad resident with travel history to Iran tested positive for COVID on Thursday. The widespread infection of COVID has led to postponement of the India-European Union summit due for March 13 that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to attend, The Asian Age reported.

These include the previous three cases from Kerala, who have now been discharged. In addition, there are three from Delhi-NCR (two with travel history from Italy, and one with travel history from Iran); six contacts of the first Delhi case with travel history from Italy; one from Telangana with history of Dubai travel and Singapore contacts; 16 Italians and one driver (Indian) who was with the Italian tourist group.

In addition, the government said the earlier two suspected cases in Telangana had tested negative at NIV Pune and the 14 Italian cases, and all the Indian patients, are stable and being monitored.

“A total of 6,49,452 passengers have been screened at airports till date from 6,550 flights. In addition, there are 29,607 persons who are under IDSP community surveillance and contact tracing,” the Union health ministry said. Amid rising cases of coronavirus, the health ministry asked states to form rapid response teams at the district, block and village levels, stating that cases of community transmission have been seen.

To prevent the possibility of coronavirus spreading, the Delhi government ordered the immediate closure of the city’s primary schools till March 31, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said Thursday. Some of the prominent public places like the famous Mughal Gardens will be closed from Saturday even as people started panic buying of hand sanitisers and masks.

Five people who came in contact with a COVID patient who works in Gurgaon and lives in west Delhi have been tested and quarantined till their results come in, Delhi government health officials said. The Paytm employee, who tested positive for the contagious disease, came in touch with 91 people in Gurgaon.

In Jammu, two people, who had a travel history to coronavirus-hit Italy and South Korea, fled from a state government hospital’s isolation ward, but were brought back. They were admitted to the hospital on Wednesday afternoon. Samples were taken and sent to the National Institute of Virology in Pune.

Officials in Jammu said around 200 people who have travel history to coronavirus-affected countries or had contact with people from such countries have been identified. Twenty-one suspected cases have been tested till date and “no positive case has been reported so far across J&K”, a senior official said.

The India-European Union summit that was due to be held on March 13 has been postponed for the time being. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to travel to Brussels for the meeting. However, Mr Modi will still travel to Dhaka on March 16 and 17 to attend the birth centenary celebrations of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the nation’s founder and father of the country’s present PM, Sheikh Hasina Wajed.

“Both sides have agreed that due to health authorities advising against travel between regions, it would be wise to reschedule the summit to a later mutually convenient date. The decision has been taken in the spirit of the close cooperation between India and the EU, who share the same concerns and commitment to global health and hope that the outbreak is contained soon,” external affairs ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said on Thursday.

An Indian medical team that will conduct tests on its nationals has, meanwhile, reached Iran. They will test Indians before they board flights to India after a high number of cases and deaths were reported from Iran. The MEA said so far no case of any Indian being affected by coronavirus in Iran has emerged. External affairs minister S. Jaishankar said the Indian medical team was likely to set up its first clinic at Qom by Thursday evening to start screening for coronavirus.

India has imposed additional visa restrictions on people travelling from or having visited Italy and South Korea, making it mandatory for them to submit certificate of having tested negative for COVID-19 from laboratories authorised by the health authorities of their countries. This will come into effect from March 10 midnight and is a temporary measure till the cases of novel coronavirus subside.

According to the advisory, the government has also suspended visa on arrival issued on or before March 3 to Japanese and South Korean nationals who have not yet entered India. Those needing to travel to India due to any compelling reasons may seek fresh visas from the nearest Indian embassy/consulate, the advisory said. Regular (sticker) visas/e-visas granted to Chinese nationals, issued on or before February 5, were suspended earlier, and that remains in force.

Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, in a statement in Parliament on India’s COVID preparedness, said the health ministry had asked states to form rapid response teams at the district, block and village levels, stating cases of community transmission have been observed. Screening of all foreign nationals has been mandated since March 4 and has started in most airports from Wednesday evening. The process should stabilise by Thursday with additional staff provided by the states, the health ministry said in a statement.

Taking a political dig at the government’s handling of COVID, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted on Thursday: “The Health Minister saying that the Indian Govt has the coronavirus crisis under control, is like the Capt of the Titanic telling passengers not to panic as his ship was unsinkable. It’s time the Govt made public an action plan backed by solid resources to tackle this crisis.”

Dr Harsh Vardhan responded by saying: “It’s really sad that Gandhi family chooses to demoralise our countrymen by likening a serious global crisis as Corona Outbreak to one of the deadliest peacetime marine disasters in history. @RahulGandhi obviously ‘knows’ better than @WHO which is saying there is no need to panic.”

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