Gujarat government also called for the closure of malls, pubs, theatres, educational institutes, complexes and temples among others, as a preventive measure against the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). (Express photo by Shashi Ghosh)
Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) has been imposed in major cities of Gujarat by their respective district administration and police officials, thereby prohibiting the assembly of more than four persons and the closure of malls, pubs, theatres, educational institutes, complexes and temples among others, as a preventive measure against the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Gujarat.
The orders were issued on Friday for Ahmedabad city, Ahmedabad rural, Vadodara, Rajkot, Jamnagar and Devbhumi Dwarka even as the count for positive COVID-19 cases in the state reached seven.
Ahmedabad city Commissioner of Police (CP) Aashish Bhatia issued the imposition of section 144 from 12 am on March 21 to March 31, 2020.
"Recently, the World Health Organisation termed coronavirus as a pandemic and in India itself, more than 200 positive cases have been detected. Therefore, under section 144 of the CRPC, any assembly of more than four persons at a given place in the city area is prohibited. The order will not apply to government officials and funeral processions. Anyone found violating the order will be prosecuted under section 188 of the Indian Penal Code for disobedience," said a statement from the Ahmedabad city CP's office.
Similarly, Additional District Magistrate (ADM) Harshad Vora issued a notice under section 144 in Ahmedabad (rural), ordering the closure of malls, multiplexes, swimming pools, dance classes, gyms, club houses, sports complexes, paan shops and educational institutes, among others.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Vora said, "For now, we have asked restaurants and hotels to follow the government guidelines regarding hygiene at their workplace, as an advisory. Further decision will be taken on Saturday once we assess the situation."
At Rajkot, city CP Manoj Agarwal issued a notice under section 144 under which no permission is to be given to any events of mass gatherings. "The persons who are put under home quarantine must not leave their quarantine spots. All gyms, sports complexes, swimming pools, club houses, malls, multiplexes, colleges and (educational) institutes are to remain closed. All hotels and restaurants have been asked to arrange for hand sanitizers for their customers and keep a distance of at least 1 metre between tables and chairs," said a statement from the office of Rajkot city CP.
Similar prohibitory orders under section 144 were issued by the district magistrate of Vadodara, district magistrate of Devbhumi Dwarka and ADM of Jamnagar on Friday.
The ongoing protests against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR) at Shakti Mill society in Rakhial area of Ahmedabad have also been called off.
"Taking stock of the current situation, we have decided to stop the protests at Ajit Mill in Rakhial for the next 15 days. The women protesters had already stopped coming for the past few days and from today, we have stopped even the male protesters. However, we will continue pasting posters against CAA, NRC and NPR," said Kalim Siddiqui, an organizer of the Ajit Mill agitation.
State gears up for shutdown in ‘total support’ of Janata Curfew
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani in a video message appealed to those who returned from abroad to be in home quarantine and said the state would support and comply with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Janata Curfew call on Sunday, totally. Many industry associations, markets and public services annou-nced closure from Saturday, in re-adiness for the Sunday lockdown.
All government-run bus services will be completely shut in Ahmedabad and partially in Rajkot, in the wake of ‘Janata Curfew Day’ being observed nationwide against the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). On Sunday, the Ahmedabad civic body said it would carry out cleaning of buses, bus stops, bus depots, BRTS and AMTS stations, parks and gardens. Surat diamond and textile market would also remain closed.
The Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (GSRTC) will also keep its 7,500 buses off the road on Sunday, which otherwise connect Gujarat to neighbouring states Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
In Rajkot, the municipal corporation has decided to take off its 30% buses from the road starting from Saturday itself due to meagre footfall. According to Ahmedabad Municipal Committee chairman Atul Bhavsar, all transport services, including AMTS and BRTS, will be completely closed on March 22. Bhavsar also said that due to the spread of coronavirus, they have been witnessing low footfall of passengers.
“The average decline in number of passengers in AMTS buses is 60,000 resulting in a revenue fall of Rs 2.5 lakh. The number of BRTS passengers has gone down by 30,000 on a daily average. This has resulted in a decline of transport revenue of Rs 1.5 lakh,” said Bhavsar.
SB Suthar, secretary, GSRTC told The Indian Express, “We have decided to suspend our operations on Sunday from 7 am to 9 pm. Even from Thursday, we had decided to suspend 130 bus services to Maharashtra.”
Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) on Friday said that from Saturday, it would take 25 of buses of Rajkot Mass Transport Service (RMTS) off road due to decreased traffic and dissuade people from travelling within the city.
“Due to closure of educational institutions and increased awareness about avoiding crowds, passenger traffic in RMTS buses has reduced to around 25,000 passengers per over the past week from an average of 42,000 to 45000. Public parks and gardens have also been closed. We will take 25 buses off the road from Saturday for an indefinite period,” said Jayesh Kukadiya, general manager of Rajkot Rajpath Limited (RRL), which controls city bus and BRTS services in the city.
On Friday, all civic centres and Aadhaar centres were closed down in Ahmedabad. Rupani, in his video address appealed, “Amid a pandemic like coronavirus, self discipline and self quarantine is important. Those above 60 years and children should avoid going out. Even if they have to, in extreme cases, they should maintain a metre distance,” Rupani said.
The AMC has announced all AMC-run public services, including parks, gardens, stadiums, food streets, and the Sunday gujari (flea) would be closed in view of Janata Curfew. Private business places such as malls, restaurants, departmental stores, markets and private food streets would be urged to close down voluntarily.
In view of the coronavirus (COVID-19) threat, all textile markets in Surat will remain close from Saturday to Tuesday. The Federation of South Gujarat Textile Traders Association (FOSTTA) announced this after a meeting of its members from different markets on Friday afternoon.
FOSTTA secretary, Champalal Bothra, said, “We have taken the decision following a directive by the Surat Municipal Commissioner to keep the markets closed for a few days. The markets are visited by thousands daily and as a precautionary measure in view of the COVID-19 threat, we have decided to keep the markets closed. On Tuesday, a review meeting will be held to decide whether to open the markets or not.”
Surat Diamond Association president Babu Godhani said, ‘’The diamond trading will remain closed in Surat on Saturday and Sunday. Future course of action will be decided on Monday. The diamond factories will be closed only on Sunday.”
Kirti Shah, diamond committee chairman of Southern Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, “There are thousands of people associated in trading activity in Mahidharpura and Varachha market they will keep their shops and offices closed. We have appealed to the factory owners to keep their premises closed for few days.”
The Shapar-Veraval Industrial Association (SVIA) said that it would join the Janata Curfew call given by Prime Minister for Sunday and that it would distribute 5,000 masks among workers. “We shall join the efforts to contain the spread of the virus by keeping our factories closed on Sunday. SVIA has placed orders for 5,000 masks to distribute among workers,” said Ramesh Tilala, SVIA president.
Tilala added that the SVIA would also set up giant hoarding boards in the area to raise awareness about the virus threat and precautionary measures to be taken. More than 1,50,000 workers work in various micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Shapar-Veraval industrial cluster on the outskirts of Rajkot city.
Ceramic factory owners in Morbi also said that they have suspended some operations. “Our labourers live on the factory premises itself and do not have much contact with crowded places. However, we are distributing masks and hand-sanitisers among drivers who transport raw material and finished products. We have already held a meeting with factory owners, general managers and human resource managers to remain vigilant. They have agreed to suspend operations like marketing and instead ask staff of this department to work from home,” said Kirit Patel, president of Morbi Sanitaryware Association, an organisation of ceramic factories producing sanitaryware items.
More being tested, stricter home quarantining measures in place
As Gujarat saw seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 by Friday evening, the health department is gearing up to tackle the outbreak in a two-pronged manner with continued, increased testing and ensuring that home quarantine is strictly followed.
Another 39 samples were sent for tests for the second day on Friday. Addressing mediapersons, when five had tested positive, Principal Secretary, Health, Jayanti Ravi, said contact tracing of those who had tested positive are rigorously under way. The state has provisioned 127 quarantine facilities across the state in coordination with the local administration, with a capacity of 5,695 beds.
Stressing that no clustering has been seen yet, she said, in a bid to avoid spreading of the virus in clusters, all gymnasiums, water parks, auditoriums, amusement parks, party plots, marriage halls, community marriage halls and recreational clubs should be closed till March 31.
Meanwhile, samples of three more suspected cases in Surat were sent for tests. The Surat District Collector has appealed to the diamond and textile industries to remain closes for a few days in view of the pandemic.
According to the health officials of the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC), the three with suspected symptoms are a 23-year-old man who returned from Slovakia on March 18, a 27-year-old woman who travelled to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore and arrived in Surat on March 17, and another 19-year-old man had come in contact with a person in Coimbatore who was tested positive.
Surat District Collector Dr Dhaval Patel said, “The health department has tracked down four persons and sent to Samras Centre (Quarantine Centre) at VNSGU, while four others who were found violating quarantine advice were strictly asked to stay at home. If they still flout the advice, legal action will be taken. A total of 527 people have been advised to be in home quarantine in Surat city and district. The health department is keeping a watch on them.”
He added, “We are also requesting the textile markets and diamond factories and trading activities to remain shut for few days till the situation turns normal. We have also told to the Restaurant association and other eatery locations to keep their premises shut and they can only do home delivery of the food items. While the grocery stores, medical stores, and other essential items shops will remain open.”
Both the cases from Vadodara have been quarantined at the isolation facility at SSG Hospital. The man, a Non-Resident Indian (NRI) whose family is settled in Spain, used to shuttle between Vadodara and Spain often for business purpose, officials said. He was in Spain from February 27 to March 7 during his last visit and reached Mumbai from Spain on March 8. From Mumbai, he travelled to Vadodara on March 10 in a private cab, officials said.
Later, he stayed at his friend’s house in Makarpura area of the city. “He initially consulted a private doctor with symptoms, including fever. When we learnt about the same, a preliminary screening was conducted on March 16 and he was quarantined at SSG. His samples were sent for testing on March 17,” District Collector Shalini Agarwal said. He continues to be admitted in the isolation ward of SSG.
The health department is now tracing people who had come in contact with the patient between March 10 and 16. So far, the officials have traced 10 people who had come in direct contact with the patient and have been quarantined. “People who were in direct contact have been immediately quarantined. These people are his immediate relatives and friends. And we are also tracing people who could have come in indirect contact with him,” Agarwal added.
In the second case, the 62-year-old woman was on a vacation in Sri Lanka from March 7 to March 14. On March 16, she reached Vadodara from Mumbai and was quarantined with COVID-19 symptoms on March 18, officials said. The health department has initiated the process to trace the people who had come in direct contact with her between March 16 and March 18.
So far in Vadodara, 263 passengers have been screened, of which 163 were placed under quarantine. Out of the 14 samples taken, 12 tested negative. At present, seven active teams of health officials are working to trace suspected passengers with symptoms.
The passengers who were quarantined so far had travel history from Spain, USA, Dubai and Sri Lanka. A couple, admitted at the Gotri Medical College with a travel history to Dubai, were discharged after testing negative for the virus. Three others apart from the one positive were also discharged after their samples tested negative for the virus.
Section 144 also has been imposed in Vadodara with malls, multiplexes, theatres, dance classes, clubs, swimming pools, gyms, etc., shut down. Buses travelling from Maharashtra have also been cancelled.
The Ahmedabad case of a 27-year-old man who returned from London landed in Mumbai and flew to Ahmedabad airport on March 18. Eleven persons who came in contact with him have been quarantined, including five family members, four drugstore personnel and two domestic helps, said Ahmedabad collector KK Nirala.
The 34-year-old woman from Finland landed in Delhi and before travelling to Ahmedabad. She developed symptoms and was tested on March 18. Three others who came in contact with her were quarantined.
Thee 21-year-old woman from New York arrived in Ahmedabad via Mumbai on March 14. She got symptoms by March 17 following which she was admitted at SVP Hospital. As many as 18 persons who came in contact with her have been quarantined.
In Rajkot, four family members of the man who tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) who were admitted to the isolation ward of the Rajkot Civil Hospital after they developed symptoms of influenza, tested negative for coronavirus on Friday. However, the number of persons who came in close contact with the infected person and were quarantined went up to 20, including three doctors who attended to the 32-year-old man before he tested positive for the virus.
“Four of his family members were admitted to the isolation ward of the civil hospital after they developed symptoms of the virus. We sent their samples fortests and results received on Friday evening say their coronavirus negative,” Dr Mitesh Bhanderi, chief district health officer (CDHO) of Rajkot told The Indian Express on Friday.
An official release from the state information department said that a team three doctors is keeping an eye on the quarantined people round-the-clock and recording their body temperature three times in a day. The release further said that for children who are quarantined, toys, pencil colours, crayons, drawing books, etc, have been provided.
Police have been deployed outside the isolation ward in Rajkot Civil Hospital as well as at the quarantine facility to maintain law and order.
Dr Bhanderi said that till Thursday, 378 persons with a history of foreign travel were recorded in Rajkot district and have been ordered to be in home quarantine for two weeks. “Under the Epidemic Disease Act, they have been ordered to strictly follow social isolation norms and remain confined to their homes. Our staff are remaining in regular touch with them and reporting their condition,” Dr Bhanderi said, adding the health department staff have been ordered to strictly follow instructions and guidelines and any lapse would lead to termination from service.
Those who have been placed under home quarantine in view of COVID-19 threat in Surat will face criminal action if found moving around outside, Surat Municipal Commissioner Banchhanidhi Pani said on Friday.
Pani said to fight the coronavirus, not only the administrative department officials and health officials, but citizens also should coopearte and follow the guidelines. “Those who are instructed to be under home quarantine take it lightly and are found violating the rules... They can be dealt with strictly by using the Epidemic Act 1897...,” he said.
Those who came in contact with residents who went on foreign tour and those who came from states affected by the virus have been instructed to be in ho-me quarantine. “At present, 419 people are in home quarantine in Surat. The SMC health departm-ent is keeping a watch on them.”
COVID-19: Police investigate fake message about positive case in Anand
The Anand police, on Friday, initiated an investigation after receiving a complaint regarding a fake message about a positive case of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) from Borsad taluka in Anand district. The message went viral on various social media platforms.
According to the police, they were informed about the message by Borsad taluka panchayat's talati (accountant) Dhavalsinh Solanki. Solanki had received the message on one of his social media groups and on verification, had found the message to be fake. He had then approached the Borsad police and the Cyber Crime Cell.
The fake message read, "Silence prevails in Anand, people scared after a positive case of coronavirus was reported from Nisraya village of Borsad taluka..."
Investigating Officer BR Chauhan said, "We have taken note of the complaint and are investigating into the source of the message. The message mentions Borsad but the source is unknown. It had been widely circulated on various social media platforms. Once we trace down the source and the person who circulated the message, we will file an FIR under relevant sections."
A similar application was received by the Vadodara (rural) police from Parul University, after a forged letter of the university -- which stated that two of its students were infected -- went viral on social media. The university had clarified that the letter was forged and no such case was reported. They had later approached the police and submitted an application in this regard. An FIR is yet to be lodged in this case as the police is trying to ascertain the source of the message.
AMC to provide services to those in home quarantine
After two positive cases of novel coronavirus surfaced in Ahmedabad triggered speculations that those infected might not have been properly quarantined after they landed in the city, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) announced it would provide all support services, including attendant and home essentials, to ensure effective home quarantine for persons with suspected symptoms and their family members, free of cost.
The AMC has identified nearly 500 persons home-quarantined in the city and will provide them all essential items, including milk,vegetable, grocery, medicines, at their door step. It will also fumigate and sanitise these locations.
“As many as 18 persons, including the family members, drivers and domestic help of the two positive cases, who came in contact with them since March 13 have been quarantined by the authorities. Passengers who were sitting next to the confirmed cases in the flight have been identified and informed,” said a senior AMC official.
An FIR under the Epidemic Act 1897 would be registered against those under home quarantine found stepping out of their house, the AMC said.
Till Friday evening, a total of 559 persons who came from abroad have been screened by more than 20 health teams and 100 health officials of AMC at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport. “Of these, four persons with symptoms have been admitted to civil hospital while another 63 persons have been put under quarantine by AMC at the Sports club and a private hotel,” said AMC commissioner Vijay Nehra.
Paan shops to be shut
The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) on Friday decided to close down paan shops in the city till March 31 and increase the fine for spitting in public to Rs 1,000 from Rs 500, as it was found that despite a ban on spitting in public, the corporation collected a fine of over Rs 27.7 lakh in the past four days, suggesting there was no let up in the act.
“Since fine collected hasn’t gone down in four days, it has been decided to close down shops selling gutka and other chewing items. Normal shops too have been advised not to keep these items. If they are found to be selling these, they also would be asked to close down. Also, it has been decided to increase the fine from Rs 500 to 1000 from Monday,” said Vijay Nehra. The civic body would also register an FIR against those refusing to pay the fine, he added.
Torrent Power Limited shuts its centres until further notice
In order to support the state government's measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, Torrent Power Limited, the integrated power utility group of generation, transmission and distribution in Gujarat, has announced the closure of all its service centres until further notice.
A official statement issued on Friday stated, "All services provided at our service centres are available through our online platforms. We request you to kindly use either our online portal, mobile application or the Torrent Power Call Centre for any service, complaint or query. You can also email us...We will revert to your queries or service requests through any of these chosen platforms. All power supply related complaints will continue to be attended to during this period. Payments can be made using our portal, mobile application, online payment platforms, wallets, net banking, etc."
Govt announces precautionary measures until March 29
In a host of decisions taken in wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Gujarat government on Friday decided to disallow visitors inside government offices without prior appointments and for unimportant issues until March 29.
In the meeting chaired by both Chief minister Vijay Rupani and his Deputy Nitin Patel, it was also decided to provide food grains in advance, for a month, to families holding Below Poverty Line (BPL) and Above Poverty Line (APL) cards through the Public Distribution System (PDS). One month's pension will also be given to widows, disabled and pensioners in advance, stated an official release in Ahmedabad on Friday.
Guarding its citizens against possible coronavirus infections, the government not only decided to disallow any visitors in its offices without prior appointment until March 29, but it also closed the Jan Seva Kendras in the districts where people usually gather in large numbers.
Takeaways and counter deliveries are only permitted in hotels and restaurants. No sit-in guests will be allowed in these places, the government stated. Apart from those selling medicines, groceries and other essentials, all other shops in malls have been asked to shut down. On Sunday, BRTS, GSRTC and AMTS buses will not operate between 7 am and 9 pm when the Janata Curfew is in force, the release added.