Coronavirus death toll rises to 7; India in lockdown mode as train, inter-state bus services stopped

New Delhi, Mar 22 (PTI) India reported three more coronavirus deaths on Sunday, including the first casualty from Bihar, taking the toll to seven and the number of COVID-19 cases rose to 341, officials said, as authorities suspended all train passenger and inter-state bus services till March 31 in unprecedented steps to contain the spread of the infection.

Though the AIIMS-Patna superintendent said the 38-year-old man with a kidney ailment and recent travel history to Qatar died of the virus, the Union Health Ministry was yet to confirm.

A 63-year-old patient died in Mumbai due to the virus while the third death of a 67-year-old patient was reported from Surat in Gujarat.

As millions of people stayed indoors following an appeal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to observe a 'Janta Curfew' on Sunday, the Centre and state governments decided to announce a lockdown in 75 districts where coronavirus cases have been reported. Only essential services will be allowed in the districts, a Union Ministry of Home Affairs official said.

The stricter measures to control the virus spread came as the Health Ministry said at least 341 people have been infected by COVID-19 across the country, the highest 63 reported from Maharashtra.

The Railways announced it was suspending all passenger services from March 22 midnight until March 31 and said only goods trains will run during the period. The suspensions include all suburban train services. Trains that commenced their journey prior to 4 am on March 22 will complete their journeys, it said, adding that passengers can claim a full refund for trains cancelled during this period till June 21.

Also, the government suspended all inter-state bus services until March 31.

The extraordinary decisions were taken a day after the Railways reported three incidents (12 positive cases) of people asked to remain in quarantine travelling on trains and amid an exodus of people from urban areas to their home states, raising fears of the virus spreading to the countryside.

A Union Home Ministry official said the Centre and state governments decided to completely lockdown 75 districts in states that include UP, Punjab, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Maharashtra.

Delhi Police said prohibitory orders have been imposed in Delhi till March 31, adding that protests and other gatherings of people have been banned. The Delhi government urged residents to remain indoors even after the 'Janta Curfew' ends.

The West Bengal government said in a notification that Kolkata and several other areas of the state will be under lockdown from Monday 5 pm till Mar 27.

According to the Health Ministry, Maharashtra has reported the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases at 63, followed by Kerala (52) and Delhi (27).

Uttar Pradesh has recorded 25 cases, Telangana 21 cases, Rajasthan 24 cases, Haryana 17 cases.

Karnataka has 20 patients. Punjab and Ladakh have 13 cases each. Gujarat has 14 cases while Tamil Nadu has 6 cases. Chandigarh has reported five cases.

Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and West Bengal reported four cases each. Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand reported three cases each. Odisha and Himachal Pradesh reported 2 cases each.

Puducherry and Chhattisgarh reported one case each.

The Indian Council of Medical Research said they are ramping up testing efforts, but added that they won't do indiscriminate testing for COVID-19. The strategy is to test only those who show symptoms, its director general said.

The paramilitary forces, comprising about 10 lakh personnel, also ordered immediate suspension of movement of troops and directed them to ''be where they are'' till April 5, officials said. PTI PLB TEAM ABH ABH