India prepares for lockdown as coronavirus death toll rises to 7

New Delhi, Mar 22 (PTI) India reported three more coronavirus deaths on Sunday, including the first casualties from Bihar and Gujarat, taking the toll to seven and the number of COVID-19 cases rose to 360, as authorities suspended all passenger train and inter-state bus services till March 31 and imposed a lockdown in 80 districts in unprecedented steps to contain the spread of the infection.

Delhi too will come under the lockdown from 6 am on March 23 to March 31, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced, adding only essential services will be allowed during the period.

The Union Health Ministry said one death each was reported from Bihar, Gujarat and Maharashtra on Sunday. A 38-year-old man with a kidney ailment and recent travel history to Qatar died at AIIMS-Patna and a 67-year-old man died at a hospital in Surat. Another death was reported from Mumbai of a 63-year-old man. The rest four deaths were reported from Karnataka, Delhi, Maharashtra and Punjab.

As the virus cases climbed, the central and state governments decided to lock down 80 districts in 17 states from where COVID-19 cases have been reported to break the chain of transmission, and the Health Ministry said states would earmark hospitals to exclusively treat coronavirus patients.

The government was also expanding the network of labs for testing samples from suspected cases.

Millions of people stayed indoors to observe a 'Janta Curfew on Sunday after an appeal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but they stood outside their homes or in their balconies at 5pm to thank the health workers at the forefront of the fight against the virus.

Beating bells, metal vessels and conch shells, people acknowledged the services of the thousands of doctors, nurse and other medical staff leading India's response to the deadly virus and making sure essential services remain unhindered.

Prime Minister Modi thanked the people for expressing their gratitude and solidarity.

Shortly thereafter, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that his government was placing the national capital under a lock down. Several states, including Maharashtra, Kerala, Haryana, UP, Uttarakhand and West Bengal, announced a partial or complete lockdown for varying periods.

Nagaland said it was imposing an indefinite lockdown from midnight Sunday.

India's leading automakers, including Maruti Suzuki India, Mahindra & Mahindra and Honda Cars, announced suspension of manufacturing activities at their plants. Fiat also put brakes on production in the country till the end of this month.

In the two-wheeler segment, Hero MotoCorp and Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India said they were suspending production.

Earlier Sunday, the Railways announced it was suspending all passenger services until March 31 and said only goods trains will run during the period. The suspension includes 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. The Railways has also ordered closure of all its museums, heritage galleries and heritage parks till April 15.

The government also 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.

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 67, followed by Kerala (52) and Delhi (29).

Uttar Pradesh has recorded 27 cases, Telangana 22, Rajasthan 24 and Haryana 21.

Karnataka has 26 patients. Punjab has 21 cases while Gujarat has 18.

Ladakh reported 13 cases and Tamil Nadu 6. Chandigarh and Andhra Pradesh reported five cases each. Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and West Bengal reported four cases each. Uttarakhand reported three cases, while Bihar, Odisha and Himachal Pradesh reported 2 cases each.

Puducherry and Chhattisgarh reported one case each.

The Health Ministry said 15,17,327 passengers had been screened at airports across the country.

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.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the administration ordered the shutdown of all establishments except those providing essential services and commodities across the Union Territory till March 31. It was considering doorstep distribution of ration to consumers, said the advisor to the lieutenant governor. PTI PLB TEAM ABH ABH